Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989
Jamaica, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, is a
constitutional parliamentary democracy. A Governor General,
appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister,
represents the Queen as Head of State, 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.
Two major political parties have alternated in power since the
first elections under universal suffrage in 1944. The maximum
length of a parliament is 5 years, and the Constitution
requires that a general election be held no more than 3 months
after the dissolution of Parliament. The last election, held
in February 1989, resulted in Michael Manley's People's
National Party (PNP) winning 45 of the 60 seats in the House
of Representatives. The opposition Jamaica Labor Party (JLP)
which formed the government from 1980 to 1989, holds the
remaining 15 seats.
The security forces are directed by the Ministry of National
Security and consist of the Jamaica Constabulary Force
(JCF-police) , the Jamaica Special Constabulary Force (JSCF-an
auxiliary police force), and the Jamaica Defense 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.
Jamaica has a mixed economy emphasizing the private sector and
based on tourism, bauxite and alumina production, light
manufacturing, and agriculture. The Manley Government is
pursuing policies which promote private investment, both
domestic and foreign, in order to stimulate economic growth
In 1989 human rights were generally respected in Jamaica, but
there continued to be credible reports that the police rely
excessively on the use of lethal force, particularly in
dealing with criminal suspects. This continues to be the
country's most persistent human rights problem.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Officially sanctioned murder of political opponents does not
occur in Jamaica. However, some violent crime has political
overtones. Both major parties, as well as the Communist
Workers Party of Jamaica, have some supporters who
occasionally resort to violence to prevent supporters of rival
parties from engaging in legitimate political activities, such
as holding rallies or voting, and to punish those believed to
have harmed their party's interests. The legal system has
often been ineffective in dealing with cases of presumed
politically motivated killing because of a code of silence
adhered to by suspects, victims, and witnesses alike.
Intimidation of witnesses and jurors also complicates efforts
to prosecute offenders.
Violence aimed at disrupting the political process is
heightened during elections. As a step toward reducing
election-related violence, the two major political parties in
1988 engaged in talks aimed at defusing tensions between the
parties and between JLP and PNP partisans. On August 26,
1988, the two party leaders signed a "political code of
conduct" intended to reduce election-related violence. An
Ombudsman was appointed to monitor compliance with the
agreement and to report violations. As a result of these
efforts, the electoral campaign of 1988-89 was relatively
peaceful, and the number of persons killed decreased from
several hundred in the previous contested national election to
12 in the most recent one.
The incidence of violent crime remains high in Jamaica. There
continue to be credible reports of excessive use of lethal
force by the police in dealing with suspected criminals.
According to police statistics, officers killed 91 persons and
wounded 63 in shooting incidents through the end of August
1989. Eight police officers were killed and 22 wounded in the
line of duty during the same period. The disparity between
the ratio of persons killed by police to those wounded has led
several human rights groups to charge that some officers are
engaging in summary executions of suspects.
Both local and international human rights groups have
criticized the fact that the JCF itself is responsible for
investigating police abuses. In July, National Security
Minister K.D. Knight announced plans to establish an
independent body to review complaints against members of the
force, but as of the end of the year no action had yet been
There is no evidence of abduction, hostage-taking, or
disappearances perpetrated by the security forces. Using the
power granted under the Suppression of Crime Act to take
persons into custody without an arrest warrant, however, the
JCF has on occasion held incommunicado for varying periods
persons suspected of criminal activities. In nearly all these
cases, the detainee was released once relatives or associates
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture and other abuse of prisoners and detainees is
prohibited by law. Nonetheless, suspected criminals are often
beaten or mistreated by police while being held in local
stations. In 1989 there were numerous complaints of police
brutality, including reports of beatings by guards and
security personnel of inmates held in prisons. Figures on
human rights abuses by police are unavailable. As of October,
92 police officers had been placed on adminstrative leave
pending resolution of criminal conduct cases, many of which
involved minor offenses. A number of policemen were convicted
and punished. To address identified shortcomings in police
performance, the JCF is receiving training in police
investigative techniques from the U.S. Justice Department's
International Criminal Investigative Training Program, and is
engaged in a law enforcement accreditation program.
In past years, some persons have brought suit successfully
against the police for unlawful actions, and the Government
has been required to pay damages. According to police
statistics, 200 complaints were filed against police between
January and August of 1989, of which more than half alleged
assault by JCF officers. Almost $200,000 was paid out in
damages following successful lawsuits against police during
Violence in the prisons is commonplace, with both prisoners
and guards subject to assault. Prison guards allegedly beat
to death two inmates during disturbances following a July
hunger strike at the Kingston General Penitentiary.
Government investigations into the incident had not been
completed by year's end. At the St. Catherine District
Prison, where 200 death row inmates are housed in cells built
for 60, guards temporarily stopped feeding inmates in August,
following a series of attacks by heavily armed prisoners.
Commercial guard forces, which have proliferated in recent
years due to the high crime rate, continue to be the subject
of complaints, especially concerning the use of excessive
force. According to the Jamaica Council for Human Rights
(JCHR), private security guards killed 40 persons in 1988;
figures were not available for 1989 at year's end. There are
currently more than 200 private security firms in Jamaica, and
many often hire less qualified applicants than the police and
provide less training. Some guard company recruits have been
found to have criminal records. Licensing for commercial
guard forces is the subject of draft legislation being
considered by the Government.
Lynching of individuals accused of theft of goods, livestock
or crops, housebreaking, or rape occurs with some frequency in
Jamaica. Such incidents are reported in the media, but
prosecutions of vigilantes remains rare.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Under the Suppression of Crime Act, which has been regularly
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
the Act was conceived as an extraordinary measure, security
forces have come to rely on it extensively. Detention of
suspects without a warrant occurs regularly, particularly in
In July the Government lifted the Act in 7 of Jamaica's 14
parishes. However, government officials warned that it could
be reintroduced in those areas if there is a significant
increase in crime. In areas where the Act has been lifted,
reports indicate that police are relying on blank, presigned
warrants to meet the new legal requirements.
Police must record detentions and are responsible for ensuring
that detainees appear before a member of the judiciary within
24 hours of detention. Most detainees are held for 3 to 5
days. However, there have been instances of detainees being
held for several weeks 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 JCHR
indicates that 90 percent of its caseload involves assisting
people attempting to locate and gain the release of detained
family members. The JCHR reports that supervisory police
officers have been more cooperative in recent years in
providing information about detained persons.
For suspects charged with a crime, there is a functioning bail
system. Bail is set by the local police supervisor in minor
cases. 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.
with regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Persons who have been 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 judicial system,
though independent, is overburdened and operates with
inadequate resources. Budgetary shortfalls have resulted in a
steady attrition of trained personnel, causing further
delays. Some cases take years to come to trial, and others
have had to be dismissed because case files could not be
located. In August 120 prisoners at the Kingston General
Penitentiary went on a short hunger strike to protest long
delays in processing their cases. Some of these prisoners had
been held for more than 4 years awaiting trial or decisions on
their appeals. The Chief Justice in an October speech called
attention to the shortage of court reporters, clerks of the
court, and lawyers prepared to work for the Government. A
labor action by court employees in late 1989 further
exacerbated difficulties in processing cases rapidly.
A special Gun Court, established in 1974, 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 preliminaries to jury
trials under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
According to the JCHR, one of the weakest areas of Jamaican
justice is the inability of the police to provide witnesses
with proper protection. Intimidation, even murder, of
witnesses is a chronic problem hampering criminal
prosecutions, and jurors are sometimes threatened by
associates of criminal defendants. The parliamentary
Ombudsman has reported instances in which 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. In August the Government announced plans
to implement a protective custody program for threatened
witnesses. By year's end the program had not yet been
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary intrusion by the State
into the private life of the individual. Under the
Suppression of Crime Act, however, search warrants are not
required to enter homes or businesses believed to be occupied
by persons "reasonably" suspected of having committed a crime,
and this authority is sometimes abused by the police. In July
the Act was declared no longer applicable in 7 of Jamaica's 14
parishes (see Section l.d.). 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 Press
Freedom of speech and press are provided for in the
Constitution and are observed in practice within the broad
limits of libel laws and the State Secrets Act. Jamaica's
largest privately owned newspaper. The Daily Gleaner, has been
critical of Jamaican governments through the years. A new
national daily. The Record, appeared in 1988 and has followed
this tradition. Several smaller newspapers and magazines are
also published, and foreign publications are widely
available. The government-owned Jamaica Broadcasting Company
(JBC) operates two radio stations and the island's only
television channel. JBC typically has been accused of bias in
favor of the Government, by whichever party is in opposition.
Radio Jamaica (RJR) is a privately owned broadcasting
company. Although the Government has a 25-percent equity
holding in RJR, the company is independent, and its broadcasts
are often critical of government policies. A new privately
owned FM radio station began broadcasting in 1989.
The previous JLP Government granted three licenses to new
regional radio stations in 1988, as part of a long-planned
divestiture program. Two of the three regional stations were
on the air at year's end; the third was expected to begin
broadcasting in early 1990. The Government's Broadcast
Commission retains the right to regulate programming during
emergencies. In July Prime Minister Manley announced that the
Government would retain JBC, while allowing private concerns
to operate a new television channel and an island-wide radio
station, but these plans have not yet been implemented. There
are now more than 13,000 satellite antennas on the island, and
many Jamaicans watch foreign television broadcasts without any
There is no censorship or interference in academic
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association. Large numbers and varieties of professional,
business, service, social, and cultural associations function
freely. Public rallies are staged by all political parties.
Such events require a police permit, which is normally
granted. The PNP and JLP held rallies and meetings throughout
the island during the last election campaign.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is provided for by the Constitution and is
well established in Jamaica. More than 80 percent of the
population belongs to various Christian denominations, and
religious groups of all kinds operate freely. Evangelical
Christian movements have gained a significant following, and
foreign evangelists regularly visit.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides Jamaican citizens freedom of
movement and immunity from expulsion from the country. There
are no restrictions on foreign travel or emigration.
Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.
Those who apply for refugee status 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 1951 U.N. Convention and the 1967 Protocol
Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Citizens have, and freely exercise, the right to change their
government. The Constitution requires that, except under
defined emergency circumstances, an election be held not later
than 5 years after the first sitting of the preceding
Parliament, but the Prime Minister may call national elections
any time within that period.
The 1989 general election, in which the FN? replaced the JLP,
was relatively peaceful by the standard of previous Jamaican
elections. Twelve persons were killed in election-related
violence. Both parties worked during the electoral campaign
to keep violence under control.
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, the country's
only human rights organization, has vigorously protested
abuses by the police and has called for corrective reforms.
The Council's work continues to be hampered by a lack of
adequate resources. An Americas Watch representative visited
Jamaica in 1989 and met with government officials and human
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 requires equal pay
for equal work. In practice, because of cultural and social
traditions, women often still suffer economic discrimination,
which is frequently evidenced in hiring practices.
Violence against women occurs with some frequency in Jamaica.
The new Government has established a Bureau of Women's Affairs
within the Ministry of Labor, Welfare and Sports. Several
nongovernmental organizations exist to help victims cope with
the effects of domestic violence, such as wife beating.
According to officials at a crisis center, police are
frequently unwilling to assist battered women in taking legal
steps against their assailants. Furthermore, Jamaican law
does not differentiate between domestic violence and general
assault cases. Women are, therefore, often reluctant to bring
charges under the General Offenses Against the Person Act,
under which the only sanction available is the incarceration
of the offender.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Article 23 of the Constitution specifically provides for the
right to form or join a trade union, and other, more general
articles obligate the Government to protect the person and
property of trade unionists. In Jamaica, labor unions, like
professional groups and private associations, function
freely. The Labor Relations and Industrial Disputes Act
(LRIDA) codifies regulations of workers' rights.
Unions draft their own constitutions and rules, elect
officers, determine objectives, affiliate with national or
international groups, and select delegates to conferences.
Some Jamaican unions have joined democratic international
trade secretariats, such as the Caribbean Congress of Labor
and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The
third largest labor union is affiliated with the
Communist-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions, and the
World Confederation of Labor has attracted one Jamaican
Jamaican law neither prohibits strikes nor provides a right to
strike, but in practice unions and workers use the strike as a
tool. Striking workers can interrupt work without criminal
liability but cannot be assured of keeping their jobs. In
1989 there were several work slowdowns as well as an 11-day
strike involving 500 workers at an alumina plant brought about
by a breakdown in contract negotiations. The LRIDA and other
laws provide that certain categories of essential service
workers (usually government-employed) do not have the right to
strike. In its 1989 report, the Committee of Experts (COE) of
the International Labor Organization (ILO) cited the laws'
broad definition of essential services in which strikes are
prohibited as restricting the right to strike provided by the
ILO's Convention 87 (Freedom of Association).
About 25 percent of the work force belongs to unions, and
union influence is felt in all important economic sectors.
The two largest unions, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union
and the National Workers Union, have organizational and
leadership ties to the two major political parties, the JLP
and the PNP, respectively. Both unions maintain their
independence and sometimes take positions different from those
of their respective parties. The third largest Jamaican
union, the University and Allied Workers Union, is linked with
the (Communist) Workers Party of Jamaica, whose leadership
maintains direct control over the union.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Constitution provides for the right to organize and belong
to labor unions, and LRIDA provisions include guidelines for
labor, management, and government on issues such as organizing
work sites, negotiating agreements, and conflict resolution.
However, in 1989, the COE cited the labor law's requirement of
40-percent membership in order to negotiate an agreement as
inconsistent with the ILO's Convention 98 (the Right to
Organize and Collective Bargaining). Employees may not be
fired solely because they are union officers. On the other
hand, union affiliation may not be a prerequisite for
employment. The Government rarely interferes with union
organization efforts, and judicial and police authorities
effectively enforce the LRIDA and other labor regulations.
Labor, management, and the Government remain firmly committed
by law and in practice to collective bargaining in contract
negotiations and conflict resolution. Collective bargaining
is widely used, even in some nonunionized firms. When labor
and management fail to reach an agreement, cases may be
referred to the Ministry of Labor for arbitration or
mediation. An Independent Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT)
forms the first appeal level above the Ministry. Any cases
not resolved by the IDT pass to the civil courts. This system
has proved effective. However, unions and some employers
continue to believe that the collective bargaining process is
undermined by a 1986 LRIDA amendment which permits the
Minister of Labor unilaterally to refer cases involving the
national interest to the IDT.
Domestic labor laws apply to Jamaican export free trade
zones. Ministry of Labor officers cite a need for more .
compliance verification, especially in the free zones, but
believe that most employers obey legal requirements. While
domestic manufacturing companies are predominantly unionized,
only 2 of the 18 factories in the Kingston Free Zone have
union representation. The two unionized firms were unionized
before they began operations in the Free Zone. Resistance by
employers (all foreign), difficulty in unionizing female
employees (who represent a majority of the work force in the
free zones), and inconsistent organizing efforts are the
reasons generally cited for the lack of additional
unionization in the free zones. The Government is aware of
the strong employer opposition to unions in the free zones; it
neither discourages nor encourages unionization. Jamaica's
second largest union has indicated its intention to organize
workers in zone factories. During 1989 nonunionized workers
in some free zone plants conducted short work stoppages to
protest working conditions.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution does not specifically address the matter of
forced or compulsory labor. However, Jamaica is a party to
the ILO Convention which prohibits compulsory labor, and there
have been no allegations that this practice exists in Jamaica.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Juvenile Act provides that children under the age of 12
years shall not be employed except by parents or guardians,
and that such employment may be only in domestic,
agricultural, or horticultural work. Children under 12 years
of age may not be employed at night or at industrial sites.
The Educational Act stipulates that all children aged 6 to 11
must attend elementary school. Industrial safety, police, and
truant officers are charged with enforcing the law.
Enforcement is erratic, however, and children under 12 are
sometimes seen peddling goods or services on city streets.
There is no evidence of widespread illegal employment of
children in other sectors of the economy.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The LRIDA establishes some basic conditions of work. The
Factory Act stipulates that all factories be registered and
approved by the Labor Ministry before they can begin
operating. The Ministry's Industrial Safety Division is
required to make annual inspections of all factories, but
budget constraints reduce the number of inspections actually
made. The Ministry maintains records on industrial accident
victims. If a private-sector work site does not meet the
definition of a "factory," the Ministry does not have the
authority to inspect it.
In accordance with International Monetary Fund guidelines,
government wage policy aims to keep maximum annual wage and
fringe benefit increases to 10 percent or less to help contain
inflation. Most wage settlements have followed this
guideline, but exceptions have been made for workers with a
history of inadequate pay. In a two-step process that began
in June 1988, the Government increased minimum wage levels to
approximately $75 per month, effective January 1, 1989.
Higher minimum wages apply to skilled workers, depending on
their specialty. Most salaried workers are paid more than the
legal minimum wage. For a worker with a family of five or
less, the minimum wage represents a bare subsistence level.
This level is more supportable in rural areas than in urban
locations. The minimum wage law also provides for a 42-hour
standard workweek and overtime pay. The Ministries of Labor,
Finance, the Public Service, and National Security enforce
labor laws and regulations