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Death-squad claim brought before US human-rights body

Published:Tuesday | April 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Kay Osborne, executive director of Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), with directors Alexis Goffe (right) and David Silvera, at a joint press conference with the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities at the offices of the JFJ on Fagan Avenue yesterday. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

A coalition of local lobby groups yesterday revealed that they have reported to the United States-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) claims that there are 'death squads' within the ranks of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) that are engaging in extrajudicial killings.

The issue, the groups say, was among several human-rights concerns they brought to commission's attention at its most recent meeting in Washington, DC, last month.

The other issues include the plight of children being held in the custody of the State and perceived discrimination against persons with alternative lifestyles.

Claims that there are 'death squads' in the JCF first surfaced in January when a current member and a former cop revealed, in a Sunday Gleaner exposé, that they were aware of special teams that were ordered by senior officers to kill suspected criminals in their divisions.

Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), one of the lobby groups that brought the issue to the attention of the IACHR, said it was done in the wake of statistics which show that the Jamaican police had killed 1,019 persons in the last four years.

By comparison, JFJ director David Silvera revealed that last year alone in the US - with a population of 317 million people - there were 308 police killings across all 50 states.

"We [Jamaican police] killed 258 [persons last year] with our population of 2.8 million," Silvera said, citing data compiled by the JCF.

"So the little island of Jamaica has almost as much police shootings as the entire United States, with more than a hundred times the population," he continued.

No sanctions for Jamaica

Jamaica faces no sanction from the IACHR, but Silvera said there were benefits to be derived from the move.

"Sometimes it is looked at as if we are airing our dirty laundry in public, but it's not about that. It's about a desire to get the Government to try and work with civil society groups who want to make a difference and assist in changing Jamaica," he said.

"And, unfortunately, on occasions, it appears that the only way you get the Government engaged is by these methods," he continued.

Executive director of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, Dane Lewis, said Jamaica was also flagged before the IACHR for failing to act to protect persons of alternative lifestyles.

"There really has been no action, despite some positive rhetoric around the issue of legislative reform," Lewis charged.

"Despite also having a number of recommendations out of various studies, there is really unwillingness to confront the issue of legislative review," he continued.

Lewis noted that the JCF has crafted a diversity policy, but said that had not progressed beyond "a policy sitting on a shelf".