Jamaica’s political system is democratic and features competitive elections and orderly rotations of power. However, corruption remains a serious problem, and long-standing relationships between officials and organized crime figures are thought to persist. Violent crime remains a concern, as does harassment and violence against LGBT+ people.
- In February, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) published a ruling finding Jamaica to be in violation of the American Convention of Human Rights (ACHR) for its anti-LGBT+ legislation. The IACHR recommended that the government revise legislation to ensure that all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression are prohibited; Jamaica’s justice minister rejected the ruling, and the government had not moved to implement the IACHR’s recommendations before year’s end.
- The minister of agriculture, Floyd Green, resigned in September after a video that showed him violating COVID-19-related lockdown regulations emerged. Various restrictions on movement, including curfews and “no-movement days,” were intermittently imposed during the year as part of the government’s strategy to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4 / 4|
The British monarch is the ceremonial head of state and is represented by a governor general. The prime minister is the head of government; the position is appointed after elections by the governor general, and usually goes to the leader of the majority party or coalition. The prime minister’s legitimacy rests largely on the conduct of legislative elections, which in Jamaica are generally free and fair. Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness became prime minister after the party’s narrow win in the 2016 election; he retained and strengthened his position in the 2020 election.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4 / 4|
Jamaica’s bicameral Parliament consists of a 63-member House of Representatives, elected for five years, and a 21-member Senate, with 13 senators appointed on the advice of the prime minister and 8 on the advice of the opposition leader. Senators also serve five-year terms.
In 2020, the governing JLP won a convincing victory, taking 57 percent of the vote; given the dynamics of Jamaica’s first-past-the-post electoral system, this translated to wins in 49 districts. The elections were considered free and fair. However, due to COVID-19 and voter apathy, turnout was by far the lowest in the country’s history (other than the People’s National Party [PNP]–boycotted election in 1983), at just 37 percent.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4 / 4|
Electoral laws are generally fair, and they are implemented impartially by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4 / 4|
Political parties form and operate without restriction. Although various smaller parties are active, politics at the national level are dominated by the social democratic PNP and the more conservative JLP.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4 / 4|
Opposition parties operate freely, and political power has alternated between the PNP and JLP.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2 / 4|
Powerful criminal organizations can influence voters who live in areas under their control. These organizations have used intimidation or other tactics to ensure high voter turnout for particular candidates or parties in exchange for political favors; there were scattered reports of such activity in the 2020 election.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3 / 4|
Women are underrepresented in politics. Eleven women were elected to the lower house in 2016, amounting to 17.5 percent of the body. The situation improved somewhat in 2020, with a record eighteen women elected, or 29 percent.
The LGBT+ community experiences harassment and violence, and this limits the ability of openly LGBT+ people to engage in political and electoral processes. Political attacks are often couched in anti-LGBT+ rhetoric.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4 / 4|
The elected prime minister and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government. However, powerful criminal groups, as well as corruption in politics, can affect democratic policymaking.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3 / 4|
Long-standing links between officials and organized crime figures persist. Government bodies continue to pursue corruption investigations, and cases often end in convictions. However, there are criticisms in the media and from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that authorities are reluctant to pursue some cases, while others are subject to extensive delays. Government whistleblowers are not well protected.
New legal efforts to fight corruption have been mounted in recent years. These include the approval of the Integrity Commission Act of 2017, which requires lawmakers and public officials to disclose their income, liabilities, and assets; the act also streamlined anticorruption laws and empowered a single commission to monitor compliance. The Integrity Commission began its work in 2018, and in May 2021, publicly asserted its independence, saying that it would not accept political interference in “when or how” it chooses to carry out its mandate. However, its effectiveness has been limited by several high-profile resignations, delays in issuing reports, and a lack of prosecutions resulting from its work. Additionally, the parliamentary Integrity Commission Oversight Committee (ICOC), which is tasked with assessing the Commission’s recommendations on how to improve anticorruption legislation, has largely failed to fulfil its duties.
In a 2019 report to the Senate, the Integrity Commission warned that managers at oil refining firm Petrojam had spent J$2.6 million ($19,700) on birthday parties, and that the firm was unable to justify major outlays. Investigations into graft at Petrojam continued during 2021. Both the former chairman and general manager of Petrojam were arrested in March 2021 and charged with obtaining money via false pretenses and aiding and abetting that effort, respectively. Additional fraud-related charges were filed against both individuals in October.
In October 2019, former education minister Ruel Reid, two relatives, and Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) president Fritz Pinnock were arrested on suspicion of corruption, fraud, and the misappropriation of as much as J$50 million ($380,000) in public funds for their personal use. The case remained pending as of the end of 2021.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2 / 4|
An access to information law has been in effect since 2004, though it contains a number of exemptions. Legislative processes are often opaque.
In September 2020, the JLP government rescinded an informal convention that placed six pivotal parliamentary oversight committees under opposition leadership; officials cited alleged PNP ineffectiveness to justify appointing government legislators to head four of the committees.
|Are there free and independent media?||4 / 4|
The constitutional right to free expression is generally respected. Most newspapers are privately owned and express a variety of views. Broadcast media are largely publicly owned but espouse similarly pluralistic points of view. Journalists occasionally face intimidation, especially in the run up to elections.
In June 2020, Parliament passed a data protection bill that critics suggested was overly broad in scope and could allow authorities to compel journalists investigated under its provisions to reveal their sources.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4 / 4|
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.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4 / 4|
The government does not restrict academic freedom.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3 / 4|
Individuals are generally free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics. However, the presence of powerful criminal groups in some urban neighborhoods can discourage people from talking openly about such groups’ activities.
In 2017, the House of Representatives passed a bill establishing the groundwork for a National Identification System (NIDS). Privacy advocates expressed concern about possible overcollection of people’s personal information, and in 2019, the Supreme Court ruled the NIDS unconstitutional, stating that a requirement that citizens submit biometric data infringed on Jamaicans’ privacy. In 2020, the government revised the bill, making enrollment voluntary. The House of Representatives passed the legislation in October 2021, as did the Senate in November.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4 / 4|
Freedom of assembly is provided for by the constitution and is largely respected in practice. Protests are occasionally marred by violence or otherwise unsafe conditions, though such events in recent years have been held without major incident. During 2021, several unauthorized protests against the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program led to arrests.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4 / 4|
Jamaica has a robust and vibrant civil society with many active community groups. However, some struggle financially or have difficulty attracting volunteers, negatively impacting their levels of engagement. Others are funded by the central government, but for the most part act autonomously. NGOs are well represented in the education, health, and environment sectors, and many provide support for the most marginalized groups in society.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3 / 4|
Around 20 percent of the workforce is unionized, and antiunion discrimination is illegal. Labor unions are politically influential and have the right to strike. However, workers in essential services must undergo an arbitration process with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security before they may legally strike, and the definition of the work constituting “essential services” is broad. There are reports of private employers laying off unionized workers and then later hiring them as contract workers.
The Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) is allowed to reinstate workers whose dismissals are found to be unjustified, although cases before the IDT often take much longer to settle than the 21 days stipulated by the law.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4 / 4|
Judicial independence is guaranteed by the constitution, and while the judiciary is widely considered independent, corruption remains a problem in some lower courts.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2 / 4|
A large backlog of cases and a shortage of court staff at all levels continue to undermine the justice system. The vast majority of arrests are made without a warrant, detainees frequently lack access to legal counsel, and trials are often delayed for many years or dismissed due to systemic failures. In order to reduce the backlog, the government passed the 2017 Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreements) Act, which increased avenues for the resolution of cases outside of trial. Since its passage, prosecutors, judges, and government officials have noted an unwillingness from some defendants to consider plea deals.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2 / 4|
Killings by police remain a serious problem in Jamaica. According to the government’s Independent Commission of Investigations, 127 people were shot and killed by security personnel in 2021. Prosecutions for illegal killings by members of the security forces are rare.
Gang and vigilante violence remain common. Police reported 1,463 murders in 2021—an increase of 10.6 percent compared to 2020—giving Jamaica the highest homicide rate (approximately 49.4 per 100,000) in the Americas in 2021. The country is a transit point for cocaine, and much of the island’s violence is the result of warfare between drug-trafficking organizations. Kingston’s insular “garrison” communities, home to scores of gangs, remain the epicenter of violence and serve as safe havens for criminal groups. Many initiatives to address the problem have been undertaken by successive governments, but crime and violence remain deeply entrenched.
States of emergency (SOEs), which provide expanded authority to the security forces, are frequently imposed in response to localized spikes in violence. In February 2021, the government announced that no SOEs would be issued until an appeal against a 2020 Supreme Court ruling—which declared the months-long detention of five men without charge under an SOE to be unconstitutional—had been resolved. However, the government announced new SOEs in seven police divisions in November, though the appeal remained undecided through year’s end.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1 / 4|
Harassment and violence targeting LGBT+ people remains a major concern, and such instances are frequently ignored by the police. Anti-LGBT+ discrimination is pervasive.
In 2014, the government expanded the Offences Against the Person Act to criminalize the promotion of violence against any category of persons, including LGBT+ individuals, via audio or visual materials. Jamaica’s first public pride event took place in 2015, and subsequent events have grown larger, though they are still met with government reticence. Some high-profile politicians have also spoken out publicly in support of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), a rights group, in recent years. In November 2020, the government accepted several recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), including strengthening antidiscrimination policies and improving investigations into cases of violence against LGBT+ people.
Legislation against sodomy, which is punishable by 10 years in prison with hard labor, has been challenged in court and at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In 2018, a parliamentary subcommittee proposed a national referendum on repealing Jamaica’s antisodomy law; a view supported by Prime Minister Holness. However, that approach was criticized by LGBT+ activists, who felt legislators should scrap the law themselves. In February 2021, the IACHR published a nonbinding decision stating that Jamaica’s laws against sodomy violate the American Convention of Human Rights (ACHR). The IACHR made several recommendations, including that the government repeal parts of the Offences Against the Person Act, ensuring that all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression are prohibited. Jamaica’s justice minister rejected the ruling, and the government had not moved to implement the IACHR’s recommendations before year’s end.
Women enjoy the same legal rights as men but suffer employment discrimination and tend to earn less than men for performing the same job. Acceptance of Rastafarians is increasing, but discrimination persists, particularly in schools.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3 / 4|
Although there are constitutional guarantees of freedom of movement, political and communal violence frequently precludes the full enjoyment of this right. States of emergency are regularly enacted, with residents of affected areas facing roadblocks, random searches, and identity checks. There are no formal restrictions on people’s ability to change their place of employment or education.
Various restrictions on movement, including curfews and “no-movement days,” were intermittently imposed during 2020 and 2021 in response to the spread of COVID-19. In September 2021, then minister of agriculture Floyd Green resigned after a video that showed him violating COVID-19-related lockdown regulations was released.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3 / 4|
Jamaica has an active private sector and a powerful probusiness lobby. Individuals are free to establish businesses subject to legal requirements, which are not onerous. Recent reforms have included expediting the incorporation process, making electricity in Kingston more consistent, and easing the import process. However, corruption and crime can still hamper normal business activity.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2 / 4|
Legal protections for women and girls are poorly enforced, and violence and discrimination remain widespread. There is no blanket ban on spousal rape, nor are there laws against sexual harassment. Child abuse, including sexual abuse, is widespread.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3 / 4|
Residents of neighborhoods where criminal groups are influential are at a heightened risk of becoming victims of human traffickers. Because of the poverty in certain communities and high-profile tourism industry, child sex tourism is present in some of Jamaica’s resort areas, according to local NGOs.