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Statements Special Procedures

Statement by expert on extrajudicial killings at end of mission To Jamaica

27 February 2003

6 March 2003

Asma Jahangir,
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial,
summary or arbitrary executions of
the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Kingston, Jamaica, 27 February 2003

Honourable Minister, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,

My mission to Jamaica, which started on 17 February, has now come to a conclusion. The ten days in Jamaica have been short, but I have gathered substantial information regarding my mandate, and I am primarily grateful to the Government of Jamaica for providing the information I have asked for and for accepting my request for this important visit.

This mission is important for the overall mandate for which I am responsible. In my general reports to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights I have continuously made the link between respect for the right to life and the development of democracy and the rule of law. Jamaica’s political system is based on democracy, it cherishes its freedom of expression and it seeks to maintain a judiciary free of influence. These are some of the basic ingredients for the respect of the rule of law. I am therefore encouraged that the challenges to the effective protection of human rights can be addressed.

During my mission I have been impressed by the openness of Government leaders, civil society, and the frankness with which ordinary citizens addressed their concerns. This is the dynamism of Jamaica and you can be truly proud of it.

My responsibility as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions is to report back to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on my findings on the situation in the countries that I visit. I am also mandated to recommend further constructive measures that Governments can undertake in addressing the challenges they face. It is my hope that my conclusions and recommendations following this visit will be considered positively by the Government of Jamaica.

As I am sure you all know, my mission was prompted by a number of reports of killings of civilians by police and security forces. Many of the reports indicated excessive use of force and also targeted killings of individuals, which could amount to extrajudicial executions. In a number of cases there are strong indications that these reports might be accurate. There is a strong belief amongst the disadvantaged that the police and security forces abuse them with impunity. I often heard the term “uptown and downtown justice” being used to describe the notion that two different standards of justice are being applied.

Another disturbing element of these reports was the allegation of the apparent lack of interest on the part of the Government to recognize this problem. Concerns were expressed that influential pressure groups justified the excessive use of force as a legitimate measure to fight crime. These reports were a cause for concern. Human rights abuses by government agents can and should never be tolerated, even in times of crisis. Further, the experience of my mandate shows that an effective drive to fight crime only succeeds well if the element of accountability is at the heart of these efforts.

My impression is that the Government has taken the initial steps to ensure that the police and the security forces are accountable for their actions. I welcome the fact that over the last few years the resource allocation to the independent Police Public Complaints Authority has been enhanced, and that several steps have been taken to further develop the training of police and security forces. The recent efforts to strengthen community policing are also commendable. The newly appointed Police Service Commission is an encouraging sign.

More importantly, almost everybody I met confirmed that there is an official recognition that despite the high level of crime it is crucial to ensure that the police and the security forces act in accordance with the law. However, I regret that the public discourse centres around the issue of crime without sufficiently recognizing this important point: Rough and easy justice only adds to more crime and bitter crime.

In my report I will be discussing individual cases, and drawing conclusions from the information that I have received here from a number of interlocutors. At this stage I can only share with you the deep anguish expressed by the families of those killed by the police and the frustration of witnesses. A number of people I interviewed showed their reluctance in testifying to such killings. They were afraid of reprisals and had little confidence and trust in the criminal legal system. In this regard I will be pointing out the gaps and bottlenecks which I believe need to be addressed. I also received reports of threats against families of the deceased by the police. In one case these threats were allegedly made at the premises of the Coroner’s court.

I believe that civil society has an important role to play in Jamaica in order to raise public awareness of the issues involved and their direct link to the respect for human rights. In the current difficult environment human rights NGOs have to be praised for raising fundamental principles of human rights. More significantly, they have been able to work with freedom and the Government continues to dialogue with them. This partnership is fundamental for a healthy democracy and must be further developed. The link with the authorities is absolutely crucial, because, as we all know, it is ultimately the responsibility of all governments to protect the human rights of its citizens.

Finally I would like to thank all the individuals who spared the time to share their thoughts, information and concerns with me. I feel assured that the amazing energy of the people of this beautiful country of Jamaica will overcome these difficult times.

Thank you

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