Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The Jamaica Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness, held 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. International and local election observers deemed the elections on September 3, 2020, to be transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.
The Ministry of National Security is the ministerial home of the Jamaica Defense Force and directs policy of the security forces. The prime minister has authority over the Jamaican Defense Board and as chairman of the board has responsibility for defense-related matters including command, discipline, and administration. He is the de facto minister of defense. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is the country’s police force. It has primary responsibility for internal security and has units for community policing, special response, intelligence gathering, and internal affairs. When the prime minister and Parliament declare a state of emergency, the Jamaica Defense Force has arrest authority and operational partnership alongside the Jamaica Constabulary Force. The Passport, Immigration, and Citizenship Agency has responsibility for migration. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; significant government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence of a law criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the government did not enforce the law during the year.
The government took some steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Nonetheless, there were credible reports that some officials alleged to have committed human rights abuses were not subject to full and swift accountability. The government did not effectively implement the law on corruption. There were numerous credible allegations of government corruption, and there were officials who sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
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 some communities operated as zones of special operations (ZOSOs) for most of the year.
The country suffered from high levels of homicide, crime, and violence. The declaration of a state of emergency (SOE) grants the police and military the ability to search, seize, and arrest citizens without a warrant, although no SOEs were declared during the year. The prime minister may declare an SOE for 14 days or fewer; extensions require parliamentary approval. Additionally, the government may identify ZOSOs, which confer to security forces some additional detention authorities, such as are found in SOEs. During the year the prime minister declared or extended five ZOSOs, which the government viewed as necessary to reduce crime and violence. High detention rates were a concern, and arbitrary and lengthy detentions took place in ZOSOs. Very few of these detentions resulted in charges.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police 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 inform the suspect of 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, 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. Every person charged with an offense is entitled to consideration for bail, although those charged with murder, treason, or other crimes punishable by imprisonment may be denied bail on “substantial grounds” that they would fail to surrender to authorities or would commit another offense while on bail. The procedure lent itself to low-level corruption in which police would accept bribes to forgo an arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Most cases of arbitrary detention were in the parishes (counties) of St. James and St. Catherine. The government declared ZOSOs and deployed the military to these areas to support police. Under these orders, security forces carried out wide-ranging campaigns of detention and incarceration in attempts 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 the reason for the arrest.