AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (AI), has made good on its threat to put Jamaica's crime problems on the global agenda.
In its annual report yesterday to member nations, the organisation said human rights abuses, including executions by police, torture of prisoners and harassment of journalists were reported across the Caribbean from communist Cuba to small island democracies in 2000.
Jamaicans continued to suffer from one of the highest murder rates in the world with 850 killings last year, including 12 police officers, the report said.
Early April, then Secretary General Pierre Sane came to Jamaica to release two reports about police excesses in Jamaica, including that of the killing of seven young men in Braeton, St. Catherine. He said then that he would take Jamaica's human rights problems across the world to force corrective action.
In a region where execution is widely embraced as a deterrent to crime, dozens of men and women are held on death row in spite of efforts from Britain and other European nations to end capital punishment in their former colonies.
Convicts were awaiting execution in The Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, said the London-based rights group, which opposes capital punishment.
In Jamaica, a nation of 2.6 million torn by fierce gang turf wars and used as a trans-shipment base by Colombian cocaine cartels, at least 140 people were killed by Jamaican police, "often in disputed circumstances," the report said.
"There were several apparent extrajudicial killings," the report said, noting reports of arbitrary and illegal arrests, searches and detention.
"Ill-treatment in police custody remained widespread and incidents of torture were documented," the report said. "Conditions in police custody remained harsh and in many cases amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."
Amnesty pointed out that Prime Minister P.J. Patterson established a new police anti-crime unit in September following protests over rising crime, but by November there were several reports that the unit had committed extrajudicial killings. On September 19, suspect William Richards was shot to death in Kingston by members of the police unit in an apparent extrajudicial killing, Amnesty said.
"When AI delegates visited the site several hours after the shooting, forensic evidence had been disturbed and removed," it said. "Family members were subsequently denied permission to view the body."
Torture and ill-treatment of suspects at the hands of police also were reported in the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, and security forces shootings in disputed circumstances and excessive use of force were also "frequent occurrences" the Dominican Republic.
Human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists suffered harassment, threats and attacks in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the report said. In Haiti, pre-election violence claimed the lives of several candidates, it said. Authorities in communist Cuba used short-term detention, house arrest, threats and harassment to stifle and discourage political dissent, Amnesty said.