PR Political Rights 34 40
CL Civil Liberties 46 60
Last Year's Score & Status
80 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

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.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • In June, the government announced the creation of a constitutional review commission (CRC) to assist Jamaica’s envisioned transition into a republic. The CRC, which was not seated by year’s end, will also consider preexisting recommendations for constitutional reform.
  • In October, the country’s Broadcasting Commission (BC) banned radio stations from playing songs deemed to glorify some illegal activity, including the use of some substances. The Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) criticized the decision, saying the BC was curtailing expression.
  • In December, the government introduced National Identification System (NIDS) cards on a pilot basis. The NIDS was originally approved by lawmakers in 2017, but the Supreme Court struck the original scheme down over privacy concerns in 2019.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

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 goes to the leader of the majority party. The prime minister’s legitimacy rests largely on the conduct of legislative elections, which are generally free and fair. Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness became prime minister after the party narrowly won the 2016 election; he retained and strengthened his position in the 2020 election.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

Jamaica’s bicameral Parliament consists of a 63-member House of Representatives, elected for five years, and a 21-member Senate. Senators, who are appointed, also serve five-year terms.

In the free and fair September 2020 polls, the governing JLP took 57 percent of the vote and 49 seats. Turnout, at 37.9 percent, was the second-lowest figure on record, with the polls being affected by voter apathy and COVID-19.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4.004 4.004

Electoral laws are generally fair, and they are implemented impartially by the Electoral Commission.

In June 2022, the government announced the creation of a CRC to assist the country’s envisioned transition into a republic. The CRC, which was not seated by year’s end, will also consider preexisting recommendations for constitutional reform.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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? 4.004 4.004

Political parties form and operate without restriction. Although various smaller parties are active, the social democratic People’s National Party (PNP) and the more conservative JLP dominate at the national level.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Opposition parties operate freely, and political power has alternated between the PNP and JLP.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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? 2.002 4.004

Powerful criminal organizations can influence voters who live in areas they control. They have used tactics including intimidation 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.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3.003 4.004

Women are underrepresented in politics. Women hold 28.6 percent of the lower house’s seats, although this is a record.

LGBT+ people face harassment and violence, limiting their ability to engage in political and electoral processes. Political attacks are often couched in anti-LGBT+ rhetoric.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

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.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

Long-standing links between officials and organized crime figures are thought to persist. Government bodies continue to pursue corruption investigations, and cases often end in convictions. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have criticized authorities for their reluctance to pursue some cases, however. Cases have also faced delays. Government whistleblowers are poorly protected.

New anticorruption efforts have been mounted in recent years, supported by an Integrity Commission (IC). However, the IC’s effectiveness has been limited by high-profile resignations, delays in issuing reports, and a lack of prosecutions resulting from its work. The IC is also affected by a “gag clause” which prevents it from providing updates on investigations.

Accusations of graft at oil-refining firm Petrojam surfaced in 2019. A trial against its former chairman and general manager, who were both charged over the misuse of Petrojam funds in 2021, continued in 2022.

Former education minister Ruel Reid and Fritz Pinnock, the former president of Caribbean Maritime University, were arrested in 2019 over allegations that they misused public funds. In October 2022, the London-based Privy Council denied their bid to have the charges against them dropped.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

An access-to-information law has been in effect since 2004 but contains a number of exemptions. Legislative processes are often opaque.

In 2020, the JLP government rescinded an informal convention that placed six pivotal parliamentary oversight committees under opposition leadership.

The government was not transparent regarding Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith’s unsuccessful run for Commonwealth secretary general. A US-based public relations firm had disclosed its involvement in a legal filing in the United States. Jamaican backers agreed to disclose their participation, but government minister Robert Morgan expressed his disappointment at that decision in a September 2022 comment.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4.004 4.004

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 are similarly vibrant.

In October 2022, the BC banned radio stations from playing music deemed to glorify lottery scamming, illegally owned firearms, or the use of illicit drugs. The MAJ strongly criticized the ban, saying the BC did not consult the music industry and was curtailing expression.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice. Laws banning Obeah, an Afro-Caribbean shamanistic religion, remain on the books but are not actively enforced.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

The government does not restrict academic freedom.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

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 openly discussing criminal activities.

The government has worked to introduce the NIDS for several years. Revised legislation, which made enrollment voluntary, was passed in 2021; in 2019, the Supreme Court struck a previous NIDS-related law for violating Jamaicans’ privacy. The government implemented NIDS on a pilot basis in December 2022, with Prime Minister Holness promising that user information would be secure.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

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.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Jamaica has a robust and vibrant civil society with many active community groups. However, some struggle financially or have difficulty attracting volunteers. Others are funded by the central government but largely act autonomously. NGOs are well represented in the education, health, and environment sectors.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

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 rehiring 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 some time to be heard.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

Judicial independence is constitutionally guaranteed. While the judiciary is widely considered independent, corruption remains a problem in some lower courts.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2.002 4.004

A large backlog of cases and a shortage of court staff 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. A 2017 law increased avenues for the resolution of cases outside trial; some defendants have reportedly been unwilling to consider plea deals since its passage.

In October 2022, a new Bail Act, which would reduce the number of individuals on remand through the use of electronic tracking, was tabled in Parliament. A parliamentary committee was reviewing the bill as of December.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2.002 4.004

Killings by police remain a serious problem in Jamaica. According to the government’s Independent Commission of Investigations, 164 people died in incidents involving security personnel in 2022. Prosecutions for illegal killings by security officers are rare. In September, Jamaica’s security minister was criticized for saying police officers should shoot to kill if defending themselves.

Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates in the Americas. The police reported 1,498 murders in 2022, a slight increase over the 1,474 reported in 2021. The country is a transit point for cocaine; much of the country’s violence, particularly in Kingston, is the result of warfare between drug-trafficking gangs. Vigilantism is also a major concern. Many initiatives to address the problem have been undertaken, but crime and violence are deeply entrenched.

States of emergency, which provide expanded authority to security forces, are frequently imposed in response to localized spikes in violence. A new Firearms Act, which took effect in November 2022, increased penalties for the illegal possession of firearms and reformed the regime on their use, handling, sale, and management. That same month, the government offered a brief amnesty for those surrendering illegal or unregistered weapons or ammunition.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

Harassment and violence targeting LGBT+ people remain major concerns, and such instances are frequently ignored by the police. Anti-LGBT+ discrimination is pervasive, though some politicians have spoken out in support of LGBT+ rights.

Article 76 of the colonial-era Offences against the Person Act (OPA) criminalizes the act of buggery; men engaging in same-sex acts could be punished with hard labor lasting as long as 10 years. In 2014, the government expanded the OPA to criminalize the promotion of violence against any category of persons, including LGBT+ individuals, via audio or visual materials. In a nonbinding 2021 ruling, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Kingston to repeal parts of the OPA that criminalize same-sex relations, but the justice minister rejected that ruling.

In 2020, the government accepted several proposals made by the UN Human Rights Council, including new antidiscrimination policies and improving investigations into cases of violence against LGBT+ people.

Women enjoy the same legal rights as men but suffer employment discrimination and are often paid less for the same work. Acceptance of Rastafarians is increasing, but discrimination persists, particularly in schools.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

Constitutional freedom-of-movement guarantees are impacted by political and communal violence in practice. States of emergency are regularly enacted, with affected residents facing roadblocks, random searches, and identity checks. Several of these were implemented in 2022. There are no formal restrictions on people’s ability to change their place of employment or education.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3.003 4.004

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. Corruption and crime can still hamper normal business activity.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

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. Abortion is illegal under the OPA, though pregnant Jamaicans are known to pursue the procedure.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

Residents of neighborhoods where criminal groups are influential risk becoming victims of human traffickers.

Child sex tourism occurs in some resort areas according to local NGOs. In the 2022 edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department noted that the authorities reported no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for such activity.

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