Freedom in the World
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Jamaica received a downward trend arrow due to the failure of the government to successfully prosecute police officers for extrajudicial killings
Jamaica continued to suffer from rampant crime, high levels of unemployment, and a lack of investment in social development in 2004. The government's failure to fully extend the rule of law over its police force was evidenced by a five-year record of failure to successfully prosecute any officers on charges of extrajudicial killings, despite the force's having one of the highest per capita rates of police killings in the world. Meanwhile, a contentious succession struggle wracked the country's main opposition party.
Jamaica, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence from Great Britain in 1962. Since independence, power has alternated between the social-democratic People's National Party (PNP) and the conservative Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). In 1992, the PNP elected P.J. Patterson to replace Michael Manley as party leader and prime minister. In the 1993 legislative elections, which were marred by irregularities and violence, the PNP won 52 parliamentary seats and the JLP 8 seats. The parties differed little on continuing the structural adjustment designed to bring economic stability and growth to the country that was begun in the 1980s, although the JLP was hurt by long-standing internal rifts.
The Patterson government confronted labor unrest and an increase in violent crime carried out largely by gangs operating a lucrative drug trade only loosely tied to local party bosses. In 2000, Patterson promised to staunch Jamaica's "rampant criminality" by introducing new efforts to control guns, creating a new police strike force targeting organized crime, and reintroducing the death penalty. The promises came after criticisms from key leaders of the vital tourism industry joined complaints from Jamaicans of all walks of life demanding an end to the mostly drug-related street crime that had been spiraling upward over the previous two decades. The fierce crime wave crippled local businesses and created an exodus of middle class Jamaicans overseas. Gang fighting in West Kingston erupted in May 2001, leaving a toll of 71 dead; 28 others, including at least 3 police officers and 1 soldier, were killed in several days of gunfights as police and soldiers moved into opposition-held communities.
In 2002, Patterson became the only prime minister in Jamaican history to be elected to three consecutive terms. His PNP won 34 of 60 parliamentary seats and retained the office of prime minister for an unprecedented fourth term; the JLP took 26 seats. An observer delegation led by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said that despite measures taken to restrain voter fraud, such activity remained high in areas controlled by politically linked gangs. Patterson also became the first chief executive to swear allegiance to the Jamaican people and constitution, rather than to the Queen of England.
A national crime plan, hammered out with the support of the JLP and the country's business community, helped to bring about large cocaine seizures. The plan included increased training for police, stronger criminal intelligence planning, and greater ties to foreign law enforcement agencies. In May 2003, the government announced that it was putting 1,000 new police officers on the streets.
In June 2003, the JLP won a landslide victory in bitterly contested local elections that appeared to be a referendum on the PNP's fiscal policies. The JLP secured control of 11 of the 13 municipal councils contested; 23 percent of the candidates were women. Following the vote, 27 people, including 2 police officers, were killed during security force operations in western Kingston, and 16 others died in gun battles in the eastern part of the city, as gangs loyal to the country's two major political parties battled. The JLP announced in November that it was refusing to support a new antiterrorism bill that it claimed gave the government "draconian powers" to confiscate private property and to suppress antigovernment protests, and it continued its dissent through 2004. The PNP also pushed to give the military the power to effect searches and make arrests even in the absence of the police.
In 2004, the Patterson government remained trapped by the vicious cycle in which violent crime helped to depress tourism and investment, while the country's economic conditions kept it from alleviating unemployment or making expenditures on social development. Edward Seaga's 30-year leadership of the JLP grew increasingly tenuous, in part because of the party's four consecutive national election defeats. However, a bitter succession struggle appeared to sustain Seaga's position at least for the short term, after the annual party conference scheduled for November was delayed by a judicial order issued on behalf of one of the candidates, who claimed that hundreds of his main challenger's delegates were chosen illegally. Potential successors to Patterson within the PNP increased their own maneuvering for position within the party, as the prime minister signaled his intention to retire as PNP leader before the 2006 elections.
Citizens of Jamaica are able to change their government democratically. The British monarchy represented by a governor-general, who is appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister, the country's chief executive. Following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition in the House of Representatives is appointed prime minister by the governor-general, with the deputy prime minister recommended by the prime minister. The bicameral parliament consists of the 60-member House of Representatives elected for five years and the 21-member Senate, with 13 senators appointed by the prime minister and 8 by the leader of the parliamentary opposition. In October 2003, the government announced that it was considering a proposal to allow Jamaicans residing oversees to vote in the island's national elections.
The Access to Information Act of 2002 implements the constitutionally guaranteed right to information; however, it has not been fully implemented. Government whistleblowers who ethically dissent over official acts of waste, fraud, or abuse of power are not well protected by Jamaican law, as required under the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. Jamaica was ranked 74 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. The constitutional right to free expression is generally respected. Broadcast media are largely public but are open to pluralistic points of view. There are an estimated 1.9 million radios in Jamaica - the highest per capita ratio in the Caribbean - but only 330,000 television sets. Newspapers are independent and free of government control, although newspaper readership is generally low. Journalists are occasionally intimidated during election campaigns. Public opinion polls play a key role in the political process, and election campaigns feature debates on state-run television. The government does not restrict access to the Internet.
The constitution provides for freedoms of religion, assembly and association, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom. The right to organize political parties, civic organizations, and labor unions is generally respected. Labor unions are politically influential and have the right to strike. The Industrial Disputes Tribunal mediates labor conflicts.
The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and includes several magistrates' courts and a court of appeals, with final recourse to the Privy Council in London. A Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, which will open its doors in 2005, will become Jamaica's highest appellate court, replacing the Privy Council, whose recent rulings against the death penalty have angered many in Jamaica.
Despite government efforts to improve penal conditions, a mounting backlog of cases and a shortage of court staff at all levels continue to undermine the judicial system, which is slow and inefficient, particularly in addressing police abuses and the violent conditions in prisons. Before the government announced in October 2003 that it was adding 1,000 new police officers, Jamaica had just 2.9 officers per 100,000 people, compared with regional averages ranging from 3.2 to 6.9. Although there has been some willingness by authorities to charge police for extrajudicial killings, the system for investigating such abuses lacks personnel dedicated to probing abuses, an ability to protect crime scene evidence and to take statements from officers concerned in a timely manner, and adequate autopsies of victims of alleged police misconduct.
There are continuing concerns over criminal justice practices, particularly the shooting of suspects by police. Officially, police are allowed to use lethal force if an officer's life is threatened or a dangerous felon is escaping, but in practice, its use is more widespread, and officials have promised to adopt a stricter use-of-force policy. Other disputed practices include the imposition of death sentences following trials of questionable fairness; corporal punishment; alleged ill-treatment by police and prison wardens; and appalling detention centers and prisons. Deaths of detainees are also a problem. A mounting crime rate in recent years led the government to take controversial steps toward restoring capital punishment and flogging; rights groups protested both measures. Critics charge that flogging is unconstitutional because it can be characterized as "inhuman or degrading punishment," which the constitution prohibits. In July 2004, the Privy Council struck down a law, the Offences against the Person Act, that imposed a mandatory death sentence for certain crimes, saying that it amounted to inhuman and degrading punishment.
Jamaica is a main transit point for cocaine being shipped from Colombia through the Caribbean to U.S. markets, and the drug trade is now largely controlled by Colombian organized crime syndicates. Violence is the major cause of death in Jamaica, and the murder rate is one of the highest in the world. Much of the violence is the result of warfare between drug gangs known as "posses." Jamaican-born criminal deportees from the United States and a growing illegal weapons trade are major causes of the violence. Mobs have been responsible for numerous vigilante killings of suspected criminals. Inmates frequently die as a result of prison riots. Jamaican officials complain that the United States was flagrantly applying a double standard by demanding a full effort by Jamaica to help stop the flow of drugs into the United States, while at the same time failing to stem the flow of guns into Jamaica. On a positive note, in February 2004, Jamaica and the United States signed a new accord that increased U.S. authority to pursue suspected drug smugglers in the island's waters and airspace.
Persecution against homosexuals is rampant, with same-sex intercourse punishable by 10 years' imprisonment with hard labor. In recent years, several gay Jamaicans have been grated asylum in Britain on the grounds that they were in danger in Jamaica because of their homosexuality. In 2004, there was a growing debate over the anti-gay lyrics of Jamaican entertainers, particularly reggae singers. Many gays and lesbians do not report acts of violence committed against them because of police hostility. In June 2004, Brian Williamson, a spokesperson for J-FLAG (Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays), a leading advocacy group, was brutally murdered in his New Kingston apartment, although the motive for the attack was unclear.
In 1998, a woman was for the first time elected Speaker of Parliament. Violence against women is widespread, but social and cultural traditions that work against its acknowledgment and reporting, made estimates about its prevalence unreliable. Although the Constitution and the country's employment laws give women full legal equality, in practice workplace discrimination, including lower pay, is common. On a positive note, in February, parliament passed the Family Property (Rights of Spouses) Act that provides for the equitable division of property following a divorce.