Covering events from January - December 2004
Reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by police and the armed forces continued. The number of police officers charged with murder increased, but there were no convictions. At least 100 people were killed by the police, many in circumstances suggesting they were extrajudicially executed.
Conditions of detention frequently amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. At least two people were sentenced to death; there were no executions.
Large sections of the population continued to live in poverty. The economy showed signs of improvement but remained dire. The situation was exacerbated by the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan in September. Jamaican society continued to suffer from high level of violence; at least 1,445 people were reportedly murdered, including 12 police officers.
The authorities gave differing figures on the number of people killed by the police. National human rights groups believed the figure of 130 to be accurate. Many of these killings may have been unlawful. For the fifth consecutive year, no police officers were brought to justice for their involvement in cases of unlawful killing, although some were under investigation.
- In March, Phillip Baker, Craig Vacianna and taxi driver Omar Graham were killed by police in Burnt Savannah. All were shot in the head. The police claimed that they returned fire after the men got out of the taxi and shot at them. Local residents claimed the three men were killed one at a time after being forced to kneel down. Omar Graham reportedly begged for his life before he was shot.
- In September, Sandra Sewell and Gayon Alcott were fatally shot in disputed circumstances in August Town by members of the Jamaican Defence Force. According to members of the local community, Gayon Alcott was shot after being challenged for smoking marijuana and then shot again as he tried to flee. Sandra Sewell was killed as she crouched to avoid the gunfire. Soldiers claimed they were fired upon and then returned fire and that an automatic gun was recovered from the scene of the crime.
Investigations into alleged extrajudicial executions remained inadequate. Police officers often failed to protect crime scenes, allowing forensic evidence to be destroyed, lost or damaged. Statements from officers involved in fatal shootings were often taken after long delays. A government pledge to strengthen investigations into police killings failed to materialize.
- In March, the prosecution of a police officer charged with the murder in 2000 of 13-year-old Janice Allen collapsed after the state failed to present any evidence and the prosecution told the court that a police officer whose testimony was vital was not in the country; this later transpired to be untrue and the officer was available to give evidence. The family of Janice Allen unsuccessfully appealed against the officer's acquittal.
- In December, two police officers were acquitted of the murder of seven-year-old Romaine Edwards who died after the officers shot into the yard were he was standing, allegedly at a wanted criminal. Romaine Edwards' parents denied that any armed men were present when he was shot.
In April, the Prime Minister announced that the Police Public Complaints Authority would be relocated and its staffing increased. The office was relocated but no significant increase in personnel was reported to have occurred.
There was an increase in the number of officers charged with unlawful killings committed while on duty. They included six police officers charged in April with the murder of four people in Crawle in May 2003, and three police officers charged in May with the murder of Jason Smith in 2002. The trial of six officers in connection with the murder of seven young men in Braeton in March 2001 was scheduled to begin in January 2005.
In July, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the UK, the highest court of appeal for Jamaica, ruled that mandatory death sentences for capital murder violated the Constitution. The ruling requires that all those currently under sentence of death be given new sentencing hearings in order to present mitigating evidence to the court.
Torture and ill-treatment
There were continuing reports of ill-treatment, possibly amounting to torture, in police custody. Conditions in prison and other places of detention were harsh and in many cases amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
- Conditions at the Tower Street Correctional Centre led to a hunger strike by prisoners. Inmates were reportedly held six to a cell of approximately 3m x 2m.
There was a reported drop in violence between inmates, but numerous prisoners were killed during the year.
- In September, Mark Frazier was allegedly killed by other prisoners in Montego Bay Freeport police lockup. However, local residents alleged that he was beaten by police officers while being taken into custody.
Violence against women
According to government figures, at least 550 rapes of women were reported to the authorities between January and July. Many of those raped declined to report the assault. In November, a government minister stated that one in five women aged between 15 and 19 are subjected to forced sexual intercourse.
Human rights defenders, gay men and lesbians
Those involved in defending human rights continued to face hostility. In November, the Police Federation called for human rights groups to cease their "illegal interference" and urged the government to charge them with sedition.
In November, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch released a report on abuses against gay men and lesbians, Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica's HIV/AIDS Epidemic. Following the publication of the report, the gay and lesbian community also reported a rise in attacks and threats against homosexuals.
AI country visits
In October AI sent a pathologist to observe the autopsies of Sandra Sewell and Gayon Alcott. In November an AI delegation visited Jamaica to hold talks with national human rights groups.
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