Another United States report points to failings of Jamaican authorities
Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter
Just over one week after the United States flayed Jamaica in its annual Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the country has received another low grade from the Americans.
This time, it is the annual US Country Report on Human Rights Practices which has tarnished Jamaica's name in the international community.
However, the country's image could be burnished somewhat by news that the Government is fast-tracking plans to deal with one area of criticism from Washington - the holding of children in adult facilities.
The Ministry of National Security yesterday announced that it was moving swiftly to provide secure accommodation for children now being held in police lock-ups because of lack of space in existing juvenile remand centres.
According to the security minister, following Prime Minister Bruce Golding's announcement in Parliament last week, he received a report from the Jamaica Defence Force on Tuesday on the time frame for renovation works to be carried out at a proposed juvenile centre in St Mary.
But the ministry said even as that is taking place, steps are being taken to transfer the children from police lock-ups to the former remand centre at Metcalfe Street.
"This is a highly secure facility which can accommodate all the children now being held in custody. Minor modifications will be carried out immediately to facilitate its use as a juvenile remand centre," the security ministry said in a release minutes after the US State Department's annual human-rights report was posted.
Though not as damning as the Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the human-rights report points to several oft-repeated concerns of the State Department and raises new issues.
"While the Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were serious problems in some areas, including unlawful killings committed by members of the security forces," the report said in a repeat of claims it has made over the years.
"Abuse of detainees and prisoners by police and prison guards, poor prison and jail conditions, impunity for police who committed crimes, an overburdened judicial system and frequent lengthy delays in trials, violence and discrimination against women" were also pointed to by Washington as major problems.
The report noted that there were no allegations of politically motivated killings by the Government or its agents but expressed Washington's concern about possible extrajudicial killings by members of the security forces.
"According to official statistics, there were more than 200 shooting cases involving the police as of October 31 (2009), resulting in 241 fatalities for the entire year. Sources indicated that many police killings were unreported, with police meting out the justice they see as unavailable through the judicial system," the report claimed.
The Government was given commendation for its progress in taking cases of police shootings before the courts but the report claimed that "no police officer accused of human-rights violations has been convicted since 2006".
The fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre last year, which resulted in the deaths of seven girls, was highlighted by the State Department to underline its recurring concern about the state of penal institutions in the island.
The Government received kudos for freedom of the press and the level of Internet, academic, religious and cultural freedom Jamaicans enjoy.
'Oppressive' libel laws
But the report pointed to calls from the local media for a review of the libel laws which have been described as "oppressive".
The level of human trafficking, prostitution and violence against women also raised alarm bells in Washington.
"Although the law prohibits prostitution, it was widespread, particularly in tourist areas. Trafficking in women for prostitution and sex tourism continued to be a problem. There is no legislation that addresses sexual harassment," the report stated.
It added: "There was no societal pattern of abuse of children; however, there were numerous reports of rape and incest, particularly in inner cities."
As usual, the alleged intolerance of Jamaicans to homosexuals figured prominently in the report as Washington said it remained concerned about acts of violence based on sexual orientation.
"Gay men were hesitant to report incidents against them because of fear for their physical well-being. Lesbian women were subject to sexual assault as well as other physical attacks."
Government officials yesterday said any response to the latest report would come after Cabinet meets next week.