Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports during the year that government security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, and there were hundreds of abuse and wrongful harm complaints. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was cited in the majority of the reports, both independently and as part of joint military-police activity, although there were several reported incidents involving the Jamaica Defense Force. Overall, the total number of fatalities involving security forces, justifiable or otherwise, increased, with 83 reports as of September 29, compared with 67 by the same date in 2019.
Charges against members of the security forces took years to process, primarily due to investigatory backlogs, trial delays, and appellate measures. For example, although first brought before the court in 2014, Constables Garrett Davis and Christobel Smith of the disbanded JCF Mobile Reserve unit were not convicted until late 2019 and not sentenced until January. Constable Davis was sentenced to life in prison, while Constable Smith was sentenced to more than six years’ imprisonment for the shooting and killing of Omar Marshall in 2009. The court concluded that Davis and Smith planted firearms and prepared statements to deceive the public as part of a process to kill persons accused of being criminals. Numerous other cases, particularly the Clarendon “Death Squad” trial, awaited prosecution.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices, although there is no definition of torture in the law. There were allegations of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment of individuals in police custody. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) investigated reports of alleged abuse committed by police and prison officials. The majority of reports to INDECOM described excessive physical force in restraint, intimidation, and restricted access to medical treatment. Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern regarding underreporting by victims, particularly among the vulnerable or persons with mental disabilities.
These concerns were highlighted by the case of Noel Chambers, an 81-year-old inmate with mental disabilities who died on January 27 at Tower Street Adult Correctional Center under inhuman conditions after serving 40 years in prison without trial. Reports showed that at the time of death, his clothing was filthy and his body was emaciated. Further, he was found to be covered in vermin bites, live bedbugs, and bedsores. Chambers, originally incarcerated in 1980, was being held under the court’s authority, having been deemed unfit to plead to a murder charge.
Rapes were occasionally perpetrated by security forces. In July, Correctional Officer Gavin Wynter was arrested and charged with rape after he reportedly sexually assaulted a woman at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Center in Kingston. As of October the case had not been tried.
INDECOM investigated actions by members of the security forces and other agents of the state that resulted in death, injury, or the abuse of civil rights. When appropriate, INDECOM forwarded cases to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for agents to make an arrest. INDECOM remained one of the few external and independent oversight commissions that monitored security forces, but reported it was unable to investigate each case thoroughly due to manpower limitations and significant delays by police in conducting identification parades of suspects.
De facto impunity for security forces was a problem since cases against officers were infrequently recommended for criminal trial or saw substantial procedural delays. Many cases, such as that of Kamoza Clarke, a man with a mental disability who died in custody after being beaten into a coma, did not go to trial due to continued delays in court and plea hearings. These problems were exacerbated by a Privy Council ruling in May that INDECOM does not have the power to arrest, charge, or prosecute.
The government did not take sufficient action to address abuse and unlawful killings by security forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, but they were not always employed. Fewer than 10 percent of the investigations of abuse resulted in recommendations for disciplinary action or criminal charges, and fewer than 2 percent of the investigations led to a conviction.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, limited food, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate medical care, and poor administration.
Physical Conditions: Correctional facilities were significantly overcrowded. At times cells in the maximum-security facility at Tower Street held 200 percent of the intended capacity. Cells were very dark and dirty, with poor bathroom and toilet facilities and limited ventilation. There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, including the June assault on a prisoner with a mental disability by another inmate at the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Center. The assailant was one of numerous patients with mental disabilities transferred from Tower Street Adult Correctional Center after the death there of Noel Chambers.
Prisoners sometimes did not receive required medication, including medication for HIV, according to UNAIDS. The HIV prevalence rate among incarcerated populations (more than 6.9 percent) was reportedly as much as three times that of the general population. Four part-time psychiatrists cared for at least 313 inmates diagnosed as persons with mental disabilities in 11 facilities across the island.
Administration: Independent authorities investigated allegations of abuse and inhuman conditions. Investigations were infrequent, and the number of official complaints likely underrepresented the number of problems. Notably, official reports did not indicate signs of malnourishment in the case of Noel Chambers despite clear postmortem evidence.
Independent Monitoring: Justices of the peace and representatives from the Police Civilian Oversight Authority (PCOA) visited correctional centers and lockups regularly. Justices of the peace reported their findings to the Ministry of Justice, while the PCOA submitted reports to the Ministry of National Security. Both entities made recommendations to improve overall conditions. Citizen groups and NGOs believed the ministries rarely acted upon the recommendations.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention but allows arrest if there is “reasonable suspicion of [a person] having committed or…about to commit a criminal offense.” The law provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, and the government generally observed these requirements. Abuses arose, however, because police regularly ignored the “reasonable suspicion” requirement, arraignment procedures were very slow, and large portions of the country operated under a public state of emergency (SOE) for most of the year.
The country suffered from high levels of homicide, crime, and violence. The declaration of an SOE grants the police and military the ability to search, seize, and arrest citizens without a warrant. The prime minister may declare an SOE for 14 days or less; extensions require parliamentary approval. Additionally, the government may identify zones of special operations (ZOSOs), which confer to security forces the same authorities as in SOEs, albeit within much smaller physical boundaries. During the year the prime minister declared or extended eight such zones, although all were allowed to expire in time for national elections. (The government views SOEs and ZOSOs as necessary to reduce crime and violence in areas with high crime and violence.) Combined, these areas included more than 50 percent of the population. Arbitrary and lengthy detentions took place in ZOSOs and SOEs. High detention rates continued to be a concern. Extremely few of these arrests resulted in charges.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police officers may arrest without a warrant when a felony, treason, or breach of the peace is committed or attempted in the officer’s presence. Following an arrest, the officer is required to tell the suspect in clear language the offense(s) for which the individual was arrested. An officer may execute a warrant that is lawfully issued by a judge or justice of the peace without being in possession of the warrant. The officer must produce the warrant as soon as practical after the arrest if the suspect requests it. The decision to charge or release must be made within 48 hours, although a judge or justice of the peace may extend the period of custody.
Security forces did not always follow these official procedures. According to government officials and civil society, the public perception was that police could make arrests regardless of judicial authorization.
There were reports of arrests and prolonged periods of detention in which police did not inform the suspect of the official charges. There were multiple reports that detainees did not have access to legal counsel and that apprehended suspects could not notify family members. NGOs estimated that 90 percent of all arrests occurred without a warrant. Every person charged with an offense was entitled to consideration for bail, although those charged with murder, treason, or other crimes punishable by imprisonment could be denied bail on “substantial grounds” of belief that they would fail to surrender to authorities or would commit another offense while on bail. A police officer could simultaneously arrest and deny bail. The procedure lent itself to low-level corruption in which a police constable would accept bribes in lieu of an arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Most cases of arbitrary detention were in the parishes of St. James and St. Catherine. The government declared an SOE in these areas because of high levels of criminal and gang violence. The government deployed the military there to support local law enforcement authorities. Under these orders security forces carried out a wide-ranging campaign of detention and incarceration in an attempt to contain violence. There were few official investigations or prosecutions of security force members involved in arbitrary arrests.
Pretrial Detention: Lockups are intended for short-term detentions of 48 hours or less, but often the government held suspects in these facilities without charge or awaiting trial for much longer periods. A lack of administrative follow-through after an arrest created situations where persons were incarcerated without any accompanying paperwork. In some cases, days, weeks, months, or years later, authorities could not ascertain why someone was arrested. NGOs estimated hundreds of detainees endured such treatment between 2018 and the end of the year, including the particularly egregious case of Gavin Noble, who was held at the Negril police station for 458 days without trial before the Supreme Court declared his detention unconstitutional in a September ruling.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. An extreme backlog of criminal cases, however, continued to lead to the denial of a fair public trial for thousands of citizens.
Delays were often due to procedural requirements, although the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions sought plea bargains and settlements to expedite certain cases. Reports indicated that the government needed to manage better the timely placement of new documents into the legal record system and to schedule hearings more effectively. Criminal proceedings sometimes extended for years. The Supreme Court reported the legal system failed to convict in approximately 7 percent fewer murder cases than in the previous year, with conviction rates as low as 22 percent in the court’s first quarter. During the year courts continued their efforts to address the case backlog by developing parish justice centers, promoting alternative dispute resolution methods, and closely monitoring case throughput to the Ministry of Justice.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges against them and the right to a trial within a reasonable time. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. They have the right to counsel. Legal aid attorneys (public defenders) were available to indigents, except to those charged with money laundering, drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, possession of large quantities of drugs, or any offense not punishable with imprisonment. Limited legal aid attorneys (duty counsels) were also available to everyone, regardless of charges, from when persons were taken into custody up to their first appearance in court. Defendants have ample time and facilities to prepare their defense. The government provides the free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal. The Supreme Court tries serious criminal offenses, which include all murder cases.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial civil judiciary process. Complainants may bring human rights abuse cases to the courts for civil remediation, but awards were difficult to collect. The government is required to undertake pretrial negotiations or mediation in an attempt to settle out of court. Plea bargains were rarely offered by the prosecution and even more rarely accepted by defendants.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary or unlawful interference, the law gives broad powers of search and seizure to security personnel. The law allows warrantless searches of a person, vehicle, ship, or boat if a police officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. On occasion police were accused of conducting searches without warrants or reasonable suspicion.
In the areas with ZOSOs and SOEs, government security forces took biometrics from temporarily detained persons. The Office of the Public Defender and civil society challenged this practice, arguing that keeping the information and failing to delete it after police released the detained person effectively criminalized persons who subsequently were not charged. Security forces apprehended wide swaths of the population in ZOSOs and SOEs under broad arrest authority.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and corruption was a significant problem of public concern. Media and civil society organizations criticized the government for being slow and at times reluctant to prosecute corruption cases.
Corruption: In May, Manchester Parish Court convicted five former local government officials on numerous corruption charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud, possession of criminal property, obtaining money by means of false pretense, issuing forged documents, and engaging in a transaction that involved criminal property. The charges stemmed from 2016 allegations that as employees of the Manchester Parish Council, they used their positions to commit acts of corruption and fraud through parish council contracts for their own benefit. The schemes included the creation and approval of falsified bank checks, invoices, and payment vouchers using false names for contract work on behalf of the parish.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires that members of Parliament, public officials in prescribed positions, and civil servants earning 3.5 million Jamaican dollars ($25,000) or more per year disclose their income, liabilities, and assets annually. There were no reports of noncompliance or that the government sanctioned anyone who failed to disclose.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Public Defender investigates abuses of constitutional rights and engages with claimants in a process to seek remediation from the government. The public defender is not authorized to appear in court but may retain attorneys to represent clients on the office’s behalf. The office may not investigate cases affecting national defense or actions investigatable by a court of law. The Office of the Public Defender’s impact depends on the political will associated with the case. Parliament may ignore the findings of the Office of the Public Defender or decline to act on recommended actions. This limited the overall efficacy of the public defender.