U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Jamaica

JAMAICA   Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Two political parties have alternated in power since the first elections under universal adult suffrage in 1944. The last general election, held in March 1993, was marred by political violence and fraud. The judiciary is independent but lacks adequate resources. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has primary responsibility for internal security, assisted by the Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF). The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF-- army, air wing, and coast guard) is charged with supporting the JCF in maintaining law and order, although it has no powers of arrest. While the civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. The economy is based on primary products (bauxite and alumina, sugar, bananas), services (tourism, finance), and light manufacturing (garment assembly). The Government has promoted private investment to stimulate economic modernization and growth, pursuing in the process a sometimes painful program of structural adjustment. Annual per capita income is only $1,560, with a widening gap between wealthy and working classes. The Government's human rights record improved somewhat due to reform efforts enacted by the Police Commissioner. Although members of the security forces committed extrajudicial killings and beatings and carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, the Government, in contrast to past years, moved effectively to punish some of those involved. The number of policemen charged with murder more than quadrupled in the past 2 years. Prison and jail conditions remained poor, with serious overcrowding, brutality against detainees, dismal sanitary conditions, and inadequate diet the norm. The judicial system was overburdened and lengthy delays in trials were common. Economic discrimination and violence against women remained problems, as did mob action against those suspected of breaking the law.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The security forces frequently employed lethal force in apprehending criminal suspects, usually in the guise of shoot-outs. This resulted in the killing of over a hundred people during the year. Allegations of "police murder" were common, but the validity of many of the allegations was suspect, the result of unresolved, long-standing antipathy between the security forces and certain communities, especially poorer urban neighborhoods. The JCF conducted both administrative and criminal investigations into incidents involving fatal shootings by the police. The number of police actually charged with murder rose from single digits in 1993 to 35 in both 1994 and 1995. The JCF policy statement on the use of force incorporates U.N.-approved language on basic principles related to the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials. On April 19, a JCF corporal was suspended after killing a man during interrogation about a rape. The corporal was charged with murder on May 15. Police authorities suspended two policemen in Mandeville July 23, after warning shots they fired on July 20 to disperse a crowd killed one person and injured two others. Authorities suspended a policeman from active duty, pending further investigation, after he shot into a peaceful demonstration in Kingston on October 25, killing one person and wounding several others. There were no developments in the murder trial of a JCF officer accused in two July 1993 killings. A JCF officer initially charged with murder for the shooting death of a spectator during the July 1991 visit of Nelson Mandela was acquitted of manslaughter following trial in November. A jury found a JDF corporal, charged in the 1993 killing of a candidate's police bodyguard, not guilty in May. In July the Supreme Court awarded damages to the mother of 1 of the 3 men who died when prison authorities confined 19 men in a nearly airless cell for 2 days in the Constant Spring jail in October 1992. Relatives of the other two men who died brought similar suits. An increased police presence brought a decline in vigilante action in the rural districts where it had been prevalent.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture and other abuse of prisoners and detainees. Acknowledging past mistreatment of inmates, the Commissioner of Corrections dismissed some 60 wardens who had abused prisoners. Despite the dismissals, procedures did not change significantly, and reports of wardens physically abusing prisoners continued. The Jamaica Council for Human Rights (JCHR) noted a slight decline in the number of reports of physical abuse by the police. Prison conditions remained poor, with overcrowding, inadequate diet, and insufficient medical care the norm. The Government began to address the problem of inadequate diet by instituting programs to make the prisons self-sufficient in food, but it did not achieve any significant results. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which toured correctional centers in 1994, stated in a 1995 letter to the Department of Corrections, that it was "impressed with the efforts being made by the Government to transform the prison system" although it noted that it would take time to put needed reforms into effect. The Government allowed private groups, voluntary organizations, international human rights organizations, and the media to visit prisons and monitor prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In 1994 Parliament repealed the Suppression of Crimes Act (SOCA) of 1974, which permitted warrantless searches and the arrest of persons "reasonably suspected" of having committed a crime. The Jamaica Constabulary Force Act, however, now contains several of these provisions, and reports that the police abused these provisions continued. The law requires police to present a detainee in court within 48 hours of detention, but authorities continued to detain suspects, especially from poor neighborhoods, without presenting them before a judge within the prescribed period. Magistrates inquire at least once per week into the welfare of each person listed by the JCF as being detained. There is a functioning bail system for citizens, but judges regularly denied bail for foreign detainees. The Constitution prohibits exile, and no instances of exile occurred.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which exists in practice. However, the judicial system is overburdened and operates with inadequate resources. Budgetary shortfalls have resulted in a steady attrition of trained personnel, causing further delays. Trials in many cases are delayed for years, and others are dismissed because case files can not be located. The Justice Ministry initiated evening court sessions in September in an effort to reduce the backlog of pending cases, but there has not yet been a notable improvement in this regard. The Constitution allows the Court of Appeal and the Parliament to refer cases to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom as a final court of appeal. The defendant's right to counsel is well-established, but courts appoint counsel for indigents only in cases of a "serious offense" (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, gun offenses). However, the law does not consider many offenses, including wounding with intent to cause great bodily harm, as "serious," and courts thus try many defendants without benefit of counsel. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary intrusion by the State into the private life of the individual. The revised Jamaica Constabulary Force Act continues to give security personnel broad powers of search and seizure similar to those granted by the former Suppression of Crimes Act.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. The Jamaica Broadcasting Company, largely deregulated in 1988, operates two radio stations and one of the island's two television stations. The Government's broadcasting commission has the right to regulate programming during emergencies. Foreign television transmissions are unregulated and available to tens of thousands of Jamaicans through satellite antennas. The four largest newspapers, all privately owned, regularly report on human rights abuses, particularly those involving the JCF. Foreign publications are widely available.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status. However, the Government had not made a decision on the 1994 applications of Cuban and Haitian asylum seekers by year's end.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully. Periodic elections are held on the basis of universal suffrage. All citizens age 18 and over have the right to vote by secret ballot. The last general election, in March 1993, was marred by violence and fraud. The violence and fraud was most prevalent in so-called garrison communities, which are dominated by one or the other of the two major political parties. The People's National Party (PNP) holds a majority in the House of Representatives. The Jamaican Labor Party (JLP), which has alternated in power with the PNP since 1944, has boycotted all by-elections since 1993, claiming that the Government had not implemented needed electoral reforms. Following agreement on procedures by the major parties in August, voter registration will take place under an improved system in the future. There are no legal limits on the participation of women in politics. Women hold some 13 percent of all political offices and 30 percent of the senior civil service positions. Women also hold the positions of General Secretary of the PNP, and 2 of 16 cabinet offices.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The work of the JCHR, the country's only formal organization concerned with all aspects of human rights, was hampered by the lack of adequate resources, and by year's end it faced having to close its office. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to the views of human rights organizations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed, or sex. The Government largely enforces these prohibitions in practice, except for widespread discrimination on the basis of political affiliation in the distribution of scarce governmental benefits, including employment, especially in the garrison communities (see Section 3).


In practice, women suffer from economic discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, and social and cultural traditions that perpetuate violence against women, including spousal abuse. In April the Government passed long-awaited legislation to provide additional remedies for domestic violence, including restraining orders and other noncustodial sentencing. The Constitution and the 1975 Employment Act accord women full equality. The Bureau of Women's Affairs, in the Ministry of Labour, oversees programs to ensure the legal rights of women. These programs have had limited effect to date, but have raised the awareness of problems affecting women. A number of active women's rights groups exist. They are concerned with a wide range of issues, from employment, violence against women, and political representation, to the image of women in media. Their effectiveness is mixed, but the groups were active in pushing for passage of the Domestic Violence bill, and in preparations for the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women.


The Juvenile Act of 1951 deals with several areas related to the protection of children, including prevention of cruelty, prohibition on causing or allowing juvenile begging, the power to bring juveniles in need of care or protection before a juvenile court, the treatment of juvenile offenders, the regulation and supervision of children's homes, and restrictions on employment of juveniles. However, a Human Rights Watch report contends that the Government has not committed an adequate level of resources to enforce the Act. Government expenditures on education and youth comprise 14 percent of the budget, exclusive of debt servicing. The JCHR has noted instances where children who have been in prolonged detention by the security forces have left school permanently because they find it difficult to catch up with the work.

People With Disabilities

No laws mandate accessibility for people with disabilities. Several government agencies and nongovernmental organizations provide services and employment to various groups of disabled Jamaicans.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides for the right to form or join a trade union, and unions function freely and independently of the Government. The Labor Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA) defines worker rights. There is a spectrum of national unions, some of which are affiliated with political parties. Approximately 15 percent of the work force are members of labor organizations. The LRIDA neither authorizes nor prohibits the right to strike, but strikes do occur. Workers can interrupt work to strike without criminal liability but cannot be assured of keeping their jobs. Workers in 10 broad categories of "essential services" are prohibited from striking, a provision the International Labor Organization (ILO) has repeatedly condemned as overly inclusive. The Government did not declare any strikes illegal in 1995. Jamaican unions maintain a wide variety of regional and international affiliations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Government rarely interferes with union organizing efforts. Judicial and police authorities effectively enforce the LRIDA and other labor regulations. All parties in Jamaica are firmly committed to collective bargaining in contract negotiations, even in some nonunion settings. An independent Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) hears cases when management and labor fail to reach agreement. Any cases not resolved by the IDT pass to the civil courts. The IDT was not able to resolve the large number of disputes before it in 1995. LRIDA prohibits antiunion discrimination. For example, employers may not fire workers solely for union membership. The authorities enforced this law effectively. Domestic labor laws apply equally to the "free zones" (export processing zones). However, there are no unionized companies in any of the 3 zones, which employ approximately 18,000 workers. Organizers attribute this to resistance by foreign owners in the zones to organizing efforts. Attempts to organize plants within the zones continue. Company-controlled "workers' councils" handle grievance resolution at most free zone companies but do not negotiate wages or conditions with management. Management determines wages and benefits within the free zones; they are generally as good as, or better than, those in similar industries outside the zones. The Ministry of Labor has not performed factory inspections in the free zones since 1992.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution does not specifically address the matter of forced or compulsory labor. However, Jamaica is a party to both ILO conventions that prohibit compulsory labor, and there were no reports that this practice exists.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Juvenile Act provides that children under the age of 12 years shall not be employed except by parents or guardians, and that such employment may be only in domestic, agricultural, or horticultural work. However, enforcement is erratic. Children under 12 years peddle goods and services on city streets, but there is no evidence of widespread illegal employment of children in other sectors of the economy. The Educational Act stipulates that all children between 6 and 11 years of age must attend elementary school. Industrial safety, police, and truant officers are charged with enforcement. Under current economic circumstances, however, thousands of parents keep children at home to help with housework and avoid school fees. A 1994 report by the U.N. Children's Fund stated that 4.6 percent of Jamaican children (below the age of 16 years) worked to contribute to the support of their households.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage, which went from $9.00 (j$ 300) to $15.00 (j$ 500) per week in July 1994, is widely considered inadequate. Most salaried workers earn more than the legal minimum. Work over 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day must be compensated at overtime rates, a provision that is widely observed. The Labor Ministry's Industrial Safety Division oversees the setting and enforcing of industrial health and safely standards, which are considered adequate. Industrial accident rates, particularly in the alumina and bauxite industry, were once again low. Public service staff reductions in the Ministries of Labor, Finance, National Security, and the Public Service have contributed to the difficulties in enforcing workplace regulations. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment if they are trade union members or covered by the Factories Act. The law does not specifically protect other categories of workers in those circumstances.

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