Freedom in the World 2014 - Jamaica


Jamaica continued to struggle in 2013 with high levels of crime, sluggish economic growth, and a public sector in need of major reform. In April, the official unemployment rate was 16.3 percent, the highest in the last decade. That month, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller approved an agreement to receive a loan of about $958 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some Jamaicans criticized the loan, claiming it would exacerbate the country’s already-deep debt.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 34 / 40 (+1) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

Jamaica’s bicameral Parliament consists of the 60-member House of Representatives, elected for five years, and the 21-member Senate, with 13 senators appointed on the advice of the prime minister and 8 on the advice of the opposition leader. The leader of the party or coalition holding a majority in the House of Representatives is appointed as prime minister by the governor general. The British monarch is represented as head of state by a governor general, who is nominated by the prime minister and approved by the monarch.

In September 2007, the conservative Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, ending 18 years in power for the People’s National Party (PNP). 

In September 2011, JLP leader and prime minister Bruce Golding abruptly announced his resignation, a move widely interpreted to have stemmed from his involvement with alleged drug trafficker Christopher “Dudus” Coke, which had caused Golding to lose support within his own party and among the electorate. In October 2011, the JLP elected Minister of Education Andrew Holness to become Golding’s successor as party leader and prime minister. Holness called for early general elections at the end of the year.  On December 29, 2011, the PNP captured 41 seats in Parliament, while the JLP took only 22. Simpson-Miller became prime minister in January 2012 as a result of the elections; she had previously held the position in 2006 and 2007.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16

Jamaica achieved independence from Britain in 1962. Since then, power has alternated between the social democratic PNP and the more conservative JLP. 

Powerful criminal gangs in some urban neighborhoods maintain influence over voter turnout in return for political favors, which has called into question the legitimacy of election results in those areas.


C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12 (+1)

Corruption remains a serious problem in Jamaica.  Long-standing relationships between elected representatives and organized crime, in which criminal gangs guaranteed votes in certain neighborhoods in exchange for protection has been highlighted in recent years as the U.S. government pressed for the extradition of Coke. The gang Coke reputedly led, the Shower Posse, was based in Tivoli Gardens, an area of Kingston that Prime Minister Golding represented in Parliament.  In May 2010, a public outcry over ties between the JLP and Coke prompted Golding to order Jamaican security forces into Tivoli Gardens to arrest Coke, leading to days of violence in which 73 civilians and several police officers were killed. Coke was finally apprehended in late June, reportedly while on his way to surrender at the U.S. embassy. In August 2011, after being extradited to the United States, he pled guilty to drug trafficking and assault charges under a plea bargain; he was sentenced to 23 years in prison in June 2012.

Government whistleblowers who object to official acts of waste, fraud, or abuse of power are not well protected by Jamaican law, as is required under the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. Implementation of the 2002 Corruption Prevention Act has been problematic. Opposition leaders have accused the government of having connections to scams originating in Jamaica in which victims are told they have won the lottery, only to have their personal information stolen.  The government has addressed the matter by amending a handful of laws, including the Evidence Act in November 2012. Jamaica was ranked 83 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 40 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16

The constitutional right to free expression is generally respected. While newspapers are independent and free of government control, circulation is generally low. Broadcast media are largely state owned but are open to pluralistic points of view. Journalists occasionally face intimidation in the run-up to elections. The country enacted an access to information law in 2002.

Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice. While laws banning Obeah—an Afro-Caribbean shamanistic religion—remain on the books, they are not actively enforced. The government does not hinder academic freedom.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 9 / 12

Freedoms of association and assembly are generally respected. Jamaica has a small but robust civil society and active community groups.  Approximately 20 percent of the workforce is unionized. Labor unions are politically influential and have the right to strike.


F. Rule of Law: 6 / 16

The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and includes a court of appeals and several magistrates’ courts. The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice is the highest appellate court. A growing backlog of cases and a shortage of court staff at all levels continue to undermine the justice system.

Extrajudicial killings by police remain a major problem in Jamaica, accounting for 12 percent of murders each year, according to Amnesty International.  Between 2006 and 2012, the government paid an estimated J$365 million (US$3.8 million) to victims of such violence, and it reportedly owes an additional J$400 million (US$4.4 million). 

In May 2013, Amnesty International criticized Jamaican authorities for failing to appoint a commission of inquiry into security forces’ conduct during the violence in Tivoli Garden in 2010 that led to the killing of dozens of civilians.

Ill-treatment by prison guards has been reported, and conditions in detention centers and prisons are abysmal.  Vigilante violence remains a common occurrence in Jamaica.

According to recent reports, children from abusive homes are routinely placed into police custody together with common criminals for periods of up to two weeks. With the assistance of a European Union grant, several new human rights projects have been initiated. The projects focus on the rehabilitation of prison inmates, reducing impunity among the country’s security forces, and providing legal assistance to people who were not accorded their rights.

Kingston’s insular “garrison” communities remain the epicenter of most violence and serve as safe havens for gangs. Jamaica is a transit point for cocaine shipped from Colombia to U.S. markets, and much of the island’s violence is the result of warfare between drug gangs known as posses. Contributing factors include the deportation of Jamaican-born criminals from the United States and an illegal weapons trade.

According to Jamaican police, murders in the country rose from 839 during the first nine months of 2012 to 884 for the same period in 2013. The police stated that 693 of the killings were related to gang violence.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16

Harassment and violence against members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community remains a major concern and is frequently ignored by the police.  Sodomy is punishable by 10 years in prison with hard labor.  Although Simpson-Miller stated that she would hire a gay man or lesbian to serve in her cabinet, her administration has made no attempts to repeal the country’s anti-LGBT laws. In October 2012, two gay Jamaicans initiated a legal challenge to these laws with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. According to the Jamaican Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, nine gay men were killed in 2012 and at least two were killed in 2013.

A court case against Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws was ongoing at year’s end. Protests against Jamaica’s very restrictive social and legal climate for gays and lesbians erupted in front of the United Nations building in New York in September 2013.

Legal protections for women are poorly enforced, and violence and discrimination remain widespread.  A number of highly publicized rape cases of young girls have led to public protests and a renewed debate about prevention and punishment of the crime. Women are underrepresented in government, holding just seven seats in the House of Representatives.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)