Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In national elections on September 3, the Jamaica Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness, won 48 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. International and local election observers deemed the elections transparent, free, fair, and generally peaceful.
The Ministry of National Security is the bureaucratic home of the Jamaica Defense Force and directs policy over 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. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: numerous reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious corruption by officials; lack of accountability for violence against women; and sex and labor trafficking. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, but 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.
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.
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.
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 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom.
The Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica barred certain lyrics and music videos, including songs referring to violent sex; violence against women, children, and other vulnerable persons; or questions of race. Such lyrics were expunged prior to broadcast.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government handles each potential asylum seeker administratively on an individual basis. Through registration the government may grant Jamaican citizenship to those with citizenship in a Commonwealth country.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Attempted same-sex sexual conduct between men is criminalized, with penalties up to seven years in prison. Physical intimacy, or the solicitation of such intimacy, between men, in public or private, is punishable by two years in prison under gross indecency laws. There is no comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
The government enforced the law that criminalizes same-sex sexual relations only in cases of sexual assault and child molestation. Officials did not prosecute consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men. The legal definitions of rape and “buggery” (that is, anal sex) create a phenomenon where, under certain circumstances, segments of the population have unequal legal protection from sexual assault. For example, a man who sexually assaults a woman through penile penetration of the vagina is punishable by 15 years to life in prison. This same act committed through penile anal penetration of a woman, child, or man would be punishable by only up to 10 years in prison. Local human rights advocates contended this was unequal protection under the law.
The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics. Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated the law legitimizes violence towards LGBTI persons.
The NGO J-FLAG (formerly Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) reported that it received a similar number of cases of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity against LGBTI individuals during the year, compared with previous years. Many of the cases reported during the year occurred in prior years. Underreporting was a problem, since many of the persons who made reports were reluctant to go to police because of fear of discrimination or police inaction. Other NGOs reported hostility towards LGBTI persons, including increased screening for transgender persons at airports.
Section 7. Worker Rights
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution provides for the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, place of origin, social class, skin color, religion, and political opinion. The law and regulations do not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Policy from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV status. There were limited numbers of cases filed for discrimination in employment or occupation during the year, but it was likely there was underreporting due to strong stigma in the workplace against older women, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTI community, and persons with HIV or AIDS. Those persons subject to workplace discrimination had little confidence that effective legal recourse was available to them. Although the law requires equal pay for male and female employees, salaries for women lagged behind salaries for men, and women were concentrated in lower-paying occupations. Persons with disabilities often lacked access to the workplace. There is no law mandating equal pay for equal work.