Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

A member of the British Commonwealth, Jamaica is a
constitutional parliamentary democracy with a mixed economy
emphasizing the private sector. The Governor General,
appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister,
represents the Queen, while the elected Prime Minister, the
leader of the majority party in Parliament, is the country's
chief executive. The Parliament is comprised of an elected
House of Representatives and a Senate, appointed by the
Governor General, normally with the advice of the Prime
Minister and the leader of the opposition.
Two major political parties have alternated in power since the
first elections were held under universal suffrage in 1944.
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has held the majority in
Parliament since 1980. The Constitution requires that
national elections--last held in December 1983--be called at
least once every 5 years. The People's National Party (PNP)
boycotted that election due to a dispute with the JLP over the
timing of the election. Consequently, the JLP won all 60
seats in the House of Representatives. The next national
elections must be held before March 15, 1989.
The Prime Minister has attempted to compensate, in part, for
the absence of an elected parliamentary opposition by asking
the Governor General to appoint independent senators to the
upper chamber. In nationwide elections for local parish
councils in 1986, the PNP won a majority, confirmation that
Jamaican democracy continues to function.
The small, apolitical security apparatus, directed by the
Ministry of National Security, consists of the Jamaica
Constabulary Force ( JCF-police) , the Jamaica Special
Constabulary Force (JSCF), and the Jamaica Defence Force
(JDF) . Since 1974 the JDF has been authorized to conduct
joint operations with the JCF to maintain peace and order
under the Suppression of Crime Act.
The Seaga Government took office in 1980 with a mandate to
implement sweeping economic reforms. It has enacted
comprehensive tax reform, a major currency devaluation,
removal of price controls, deregulation of most imports,
reduction of the public sector work force, and divestment of
many state enterprises. After a decline in gross domestic
product in 1985, the economy registered a 2 percent growth
rate in 1986 and over 5 percent growth rate throughout 1987.
Tourism, bauxite and alumina production, light manufacturing
and agriculture are important for the Jamaican economy.
In 1987 human rights generally were respected in Jamaica.
Violent crime remains a major social problem, particularly in
the Kingston area. The police often resort to the use of
lethal force in dealing with criminals who themselves
frequently use firearms. Newspaper editorials, Jamaican and
international human rights advocates, the Parliamentary
Ombudsman, and the Police Commissioner have consistently
criticized killings by the police. The Jamaica Council for
Human Rights estimated that 137 people were killed by the
police between January and September 1987 under what it found
to be suspicious circumstances. The excessive use of lethal
force by the police continues to be one of the country's most
persistent human rights concerns.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
Officially sanctioned murder of political opponents does not
occur in Jamaica. However, Jamaica does suffer from a high
rate of violent crime, some of which has political overtones.
Supporters of both major parties, as well as the Communist
Workers Party of Jamaica, occasionally resort to violence to
advance their political agenda, to prevent rival parties from
engaging in legitimate political activities, including voting,
and to punish those believed to have harmed their party's
interests. The legal system often has been ineffective in
dealing with cases of presumed political killing because of a
code of silence adhered to by suspects, victims, and witnesses
alike and the reluctance of the police to get involved in
political disputes.
In the past, violence aimed at disrupting the political
process has reached its peak during elections. Hundreds died
during the last contested national elections in 1980, and
three persons were killed in violence associated with the 1986
local elections. Cooperation between the major parties to
minimize violence made the 1986 local elections the most
peaceful in many years. After the 1986 elections, the
Government formed an independent commission to investigate
electoral irregularities. One of the commission's major
recommendations was that the JDF, rather than the police, be
given responsibility for patrolling areas historically prone
to political violence. The JDF is perceived by Jamaicans as
best equipped to take effective action in such areas.
Talks begun during the 1986 elections aimed at defusing
tensions between the parties' leadership and between JLP and
PNP partisans continued in 1987. Most such meetings were held
at the General Secretary level and involved other ranking
officials from both parties. A meeting of the two party
leaders was scheduled and then called off in July; both sides
anticipate rescheduling the meeting.
     b. Disappearanceppearance
There was no evidence of abduction, hostage-taking, or
disappearances perpetrated by the security forces. However,
the JCF can legally take individuals into custody without an
arrest warrant and occasionally holds individuals suspected of
criminal activities incommunicado for short periods. In nearly
all these cases, the individual is released once relatives or
associates of the detained person protest.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishmenture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
Section 17 of the Constitution prohibits torture or inhuman or
degrading punishment or other treatment. Despite this,
suspected criminals are often beaten or mistreated by police
while being held in local police stations. In previous years,
some persons have brought suit successfully against the police
for unlawful actions, and the Government had to pay damages.
There were no such suits in 1987.
Violent police actions, particularly the excessive use of
lethal force in dealing with suspected criminals, occasionally
spark impromptu demonstrations, including roadblocks. More
selective recruitment and better training for the police are
being stressed, but the pace of reform has been slow.
Armed commercial guard forces, which have proliferated in
recent years, have also been the subject of complaints. The
problem is exacerbated by the fact that guard forces typically
hire less qualified applicants than do the police and provide
less training. The Prime Minister announced in July his
intention to introduce legislation requiring licensing of and
standardized training for commercial guard forces.
Lynching of persons suspected of stealing livestock or crops,
housebreaking, and rape occurs with some frequency in rural
Jamaica. Such incidents are often reported in the media, but
prosecution of vigilantes is rare.
Prison conditions in Jamaica are substandard, particularly in
the police station jails. The Parliamentary Ombudsman visited
many police station jails in 1987 in preparation for a report
to Parliament and reported on the extremely poor conditions in
those facilities. Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions,
inadequate food, and limited medical care for inmates are the
norm for these detention facilities. According to the
Ombudsman, conditions in the two maximum security prisons are
marginally better than in the police station jails, but
similar problems plague the prisons.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Laborrary Arrest, Detention, Exile, or Forced Labor
Under the Suppression of Crime Act, extended at 6-month
intervals since its adoption in 1974, security forces do not
need a warrant to detain persons "reasonably" suspected of
having committed a crime. Although conceived of as an
extraordinary measure, security forces rely on the Act
extensively, and detention of suspects without a warrant
occurs regularly, particularly in poor neighborhoods. Almost
all detainees are released without being charged.
Police must record detentions and are responsible for ensuring
that detainees appear before a member of the judiciary within
24 hours of detention. However, there have been instances of
detainees being held for 2 weeks or longer without being
brought before a judicial officer. Many detainees are unaware
of their right to timely judicial review of the grounds for
their detention. The Jamaica Council for Human Rights
indicates that 90 percent of its caseload involves assisting
people attempting to locate and gain the release of detained
family members. The Council reports that supervisory police
officers have been more cooperative in recent years in
providing information about detained persons.
For suspects charged with a crime, a functioning system of
bail is available. Bail is set by the local police supervisor
in minor cases, but a judicial officer sets bail for those
charged with more serious crimes. Persons unable to make bail
while waiting for a judicial hearing are often detained for
long periods. Outsiders are permitted access to the accused.
There are no political prisoners in Jamaica.
The Constitution does not specifically address the matter of
forced or compulsory labor. Jamaica is, however, a party to
the International Labor Organization Convention which prohibits
compulsory labor. There have been no allegations of this
practice in Jamaica.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is independent. Persons charged with criminal
offenses have access to legal representation, and legal
counsel is provided to indigents in criminal cases. The Court
of Appeal and the Parliament may refer cases to the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. The
legal system is overburdened and inadeguately supported by the
Government. Some cases take years to come to trial, and
others have had to be dismissed due to the inability of the
courts to locate case files. Regular trials are open to the
public. Defendants can present evidence and challenge the
prosecution's evidence.
In addition to the regular courts, the Gun Court was
established in 1974 as an extraordinary system for dealing
with violent crime. The Gun Court considers all cases
involving the illegal use or possession of firearms and
ammunition. Public attendance is restricted, and less
stringent rules of evidence are used. In capital cases,
hearings before the Gun Court serve as preliminary hearings to
jury trials under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The
1983 Gun Court Amendment Act eliminated several of the special
exceptions to normal judicial rules and procedures which had
applied to the Gun Court.
Intimidation of witnesses is a chronic problem hampering
criminal prosecutions in Jamaica. Jurors also have reported
receiving threats from associates of criminal defendants. The
Parliamentary Ombudsman reported that similar threats and
intimidation are directed against witnesses and jurors in
criminal cases where the accused is a policeman. Some
convictions have been obtained for such attempts to subvert
the judicial system. A respected judge who had been active in
antinarcotics cases was murdered in November.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondencerary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
! The Constitution prohibits arbitrary intrusion by the State
into the private life of the individual. Individual rights
! are protected. However, the Suppression of Crime Act permits
entry without a search warrant into homes or businesses
believed to be occupied by persons "reasonably" suspected of
having committed a crime. This authority is sometimes abused
by the police, especially in poor neighborhoods. Regulations
approved by Parliament in 1980 require that every effort be
made by security forces to have the owner or occupant of the
premises present during any search.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Pressof Speech and Press
Freedom of speech and press are provided for by the
Constitution and are observed in practice within the broad
limits of libel laws and the State Secrets Act. Jamaica's
principal privately owned newspaper. The Daily Gleaner, has
been critical of Jamaican governments through the years.
Several smaller circulation newspapers and magazines are also
(published. Foreign publications are widely available. The
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government-owned and -operated Jamaica Broadcasting Company
(JBC) includes two radio stations and the island's onlytelevision
channel. JBC has typically been accused of bias in
favor of the Government by whichever party is in opposition.
The only other broadcasting company is privately owned Radio
Jamaica (RJR) . Although the Government has an equity holding
in RJR, the company is independent and its broadcasts are
often critical of government policies.
In July Prime Minister Seaga announced that the Government
would sell its RJR stocks and would offer new licenses for
additional commercial, religious, and public broadcasting
radio stations. Further, three licenses for television
stations would be offered--one commercial station, one
religious, and one public broadcasting station. It is
anticipated that the public broadcasting station will be
formed from the existing JBC-TV. There is no censorship or
interference in academic studies.
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Associationof Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association. Large numbers and varieties of professional
groups; private business, service, social, and cultural
associations; and trade unions function freely.
Public rallies are staged by all political parties. Such
events require a police permit, which is normally granted.
The opposition PNP and the ruling JLP held rallies and
meetings throughout the island during 1987.
Workers and employers enjoy the freedom to establish and
direct trade and labor organizations. Although it is not
required, such organizations generally apply for registration
with the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Labour's trade
union roster now lists 78 active groups including several
employer organizations. The Labor Relations and Industrial
Disputes Act (LRIDA) of 1975 codifies regulations on workers'
rights. Union members draft or redraft organizational
constitutions and rules, elect officers, determine objectives
and affiliate with national or international umbrella
groupings, select delegates to conferences, and freely perform
other functions. Most unions have joined democratic
international trade secretariats, the Caribbean Congress of
Labour, and the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions. The Christian-Democratic Workers Confederation of
Labor has attracted one Jamaican adherent, and two small
unions are affiliated with the Communist World Federation of
Trade Unions. Labor and management groups select their own
delegates to tripartite meetings of the International Labor
Organization (ILO).
By law, union affiliation may not be a prerequisite for
employment. Labor, management, and government are committed
by law and in fact to collective bargaining in contract
negotiations. When labor and management fail to reach an
agreement, cases may be referred to the Ministry of Labour for
adjudication. The Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) forms
the first appeal level, and, if necessary, cases then pass to
the civil courts. Unions protested a 1986 LRIDA change that
allows the Minister of Labour unilaterally to refer cases
involving the national interest to the IDT. Opposition PNP
president Michael Manley has promised to remove the provision
if elected.
The right to strike is neither endorsed nor forbidden by law;
Jamaican unions and workers do strike. Striking workers are
immune to criminal liability but cannot be certain of
retaining their jobs.
Jamaican unions have enrolled about 25 percent of the work
force, and the two largest unions have direct organizational
and leadership ties to the two major political parties—the
Bustamante Industrial Trade Union is affiliated with the
ruling JLP, while the National Workers Union is affiliated
with the PNP. Both unions maintain their independence and
sometimes take positions in opposition to their respective
parties. A third, smaller union, the University and Allied
Workers Union, is affiliated with the Communist Workers Party
of Jamaica and mirrors its policies.
Labor laws apply to the three export free trade zones as well
as to domestic industries. Government officials have cited a
need for more compliance verification in the free zones but
have stated their belief that most employers obey legal
requirements. Only 2 of the 18 factories in the Kingston Free
Zone (KFZ) have union representation, and unions have alleged
that employers in the Zone have colluded to obstruct
unionization of the work force. Workers in some KFZ plants
conducted short work stoppages in 1987 to protest conditions.
     c. Freedom of Religionof Religion
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and is
well established in Jamaica. More than 80 percent of the
population belong to various Christian denominations, and
religious groups of all kinds operate freely. Evangelical
Christian movements have gained a significant following in
recent years, and foreign evangelists visit Jamaica and
proselytize freely.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreignof Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for freedom of movement, the right
to reside wherever they choose, and immunity to expulsion from
the country. There are no restrictions on foreign travel or
emigration. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.
Jamaica does not have a declared general policy on refugees,
in part because so few persons apply for that status. Those
who apply are handled on a case-by-case basis. The country
does not often accept asylum seekers, primarily for domestic
economic reasons. Jamaica is a party to the U.N. Convention
and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet exercise executive power.
The executive usually takes the initiative in legislative
matters and is responsible to the House of Representatives.
The Constitution requires that an election be held not later
than 5 years after the first sitting of the preceding
Parliament, but the Prime Minister can call national elections
anytime within that period. The Government has thus far
resisted calls for new elections much before the expiration of
its term in 1989.
In 1986 nationwide local elections were held to fill parish
council seats. In these hotly contested elections, the PNP
recei.ved 57 percent of the overall vote and gained control of
12 of the 13 parish councils.
In response to allegations of irregularities during the 1986
elections. Prime Minister Seaga appointed an independent
conunission to investigate. In its report, made public in
September, the commission found that gangs of armed party
supporters linked to both major parties were active in parts
of Kingston and neighboring St. Catherine during the election.
These gangs intimidated voters and sometimes forced voters to
cast their ballots in open view. The commission also reported
instances of ballot box-stuffing and theft. It recommended
that the security forces be deployed during future elections
to historically troubled areas in numbers sufficient to
prevent intimidation and fraud.
Beginning in January 1987, the PNP held a series of rallies
around Jamaica to press a demand for an immediate general
election. The PNP at first threatened a campaign of civil
disobedience if its demand was not met, but it later dropped
this threat. These PNP rallies took place in an open and free
atmosphere, and neither the Government nor the security forces
impeded the rallies. The JLP also conducted its own series of
rallies around the country in 1987.
The widespread political activity in 1987 in anticipation of
parliamentary elections by early 1989, combined with the
comparatively peaceful 1986 local elections, clearly
demonstrated that the democratic tradition remains strong in
Jamaica, despite the anomalous situation caused by the current
one-party Parliament.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no restrictions on human rights organizations in
Jamaica. The Jamaica Council for Human Rights ( JCHR) , the
only local human rights organization, has vigorously protested
abuses by the police and has called for police reform. The
JCHR protests alleged abuses to the police and judiciary on a
case-by-case bisis and did not issue any official reports in
1987. The JCHR has reported informally, however, that 137
people were killed by police between January and September
1987 under what it found to be suspicious circumstances.
Americas Watch visited Jamaica in 1986, and subsequently
issued a report which claimed that the police engaged in a
practice of summary executions of criminal suspects, killing
more than 200 persons in each of the last 7 years. The report
alleged that victims sometimes included bystanders and
individuals involved in personal grudges with policemen.
No foreign human rights groups visited Jamaica in 1987.
The JCF Commissioner and the Minister of National Security are
acting to improve significantly the professionalism and
discipline of the JCF. A senior JCF Commissioner was assigned
to improve respect for human rights by the police. In 1987
over 70 Jamaican policemen received specialized training in
criminal investigative techniques. The training courses had
segments stressing the importance of good community relations
and human rights. Credible sources indicated that following
the release of the Americas Watch report, incidences of police
killings and beatings dropped substantially for about 3
months, but that such occurrences were again on the upswing in
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Jamaican women are accorded full equality under the
Constitution, and the 1975 Employment Act guarantees them
equal pay for equal work. Women hold influential positions in
the Civil Service and in the Government. Nevertheless, because
of cultural and social values, women often suffer economic
discrimination, frequently evidenced in hiring practices.
Access to higher paying jobs outside traditionally femaledominated
sectors is limited, particularly in the private
sector. The 1975 Act helped narrow the gap between men's and
women's salaries, but disparities remain.
The Juvenile Act provides that no child under age 12 shall be
employed except by parents or guardians. Such employment can
only be in domestic, agricultural, or horticultural work.
Children under age 12 may not be employed at night or at any
industrial site. Despite the laws on child labor, children
under 12 are often seen peddling goods and services on the
streets. There is no evidence of widespread illegal
employment of children in other sectors of the economy.
Under the Factories Act, all plants must be registered and
approved by the Ministry of Labour before they can begin
operations. The Ministry's Industrial Safety Division is
required to make yearly inspections of all facilities. In
practice, because of budget constraints, these site
inspections often are not performed. The Ministry has no
authority to oversee private-sector work sites and other
places of employment which do not meet the statutory
definition of a factory. Other laws establish minimum
standards for working conditions.
The Government established a minimum wage of Jamaican $80
(approximately US $14.75) a week in 1985. Payment of that
rate appears to be enforced, and it is adequate to support
minimum food and shelter needs. Legislation in 1985 also
established a standard workweek of 42 hours, which appears to
be enforced