Focus on Jamaica

NEW RELEASES – Human rights are persistently violated in Jamaica. Yet, the current situation is not discussed enough in the international panorama. Mainly known for its beautiful landscapes and for its colonial past, Jamaica faces today many challenges on a human rights level. This article seeks to explore the main points of concern, whilst updating on the progress – or regress – that has been occurred within the country.

Anglais

Violence and poverty

Up to this date, Jamaica continues to be one of the most dangerous and most violent countries in the world. With its incredibly high homicide rate per capita in the world, Jamaica’s crime remains a key concern for the public. As Amnesty International has pointed out, “between January and June [2015], police recorded 1,486 reports of serious and violent crimes, classified as murders, shootings, rapes and aggravated assaults.1 Moreover, in 2015 murders have increased of 20% compared to 2014.

The vicious cycle of poverty and violence has become a point of great concern also for many members of the civil society. Recently, in a Report2 submitted for the 118th session of the Human Rights Committee, many NGOs stated that “the  State  party,  Jamaica,  faces  a  range  of  human  rights challenges,  not  least  of  which  are  longstanding shortcomings in fulfilling the obligations imposed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights3 Despite some important progress at the policy level, effective realisation of rights remains elusive. For instance, Jamaica has not established a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) thus failing to fulfil its obligations under Article 2 of the ICCPR.

 

Children and women’s rights

Children – who are, by their own nature, particularly vulnerable - are suffering serious human rights violations in Jamaica. Particularly in relation to the critical situation of children in prison, the conditions of detention and treatment of juvenile offenders are concerning.4 High levels of attempted suicide among children in juvenile prisons raise serious questions on their mental health and well-being. Furthermore, according to many NGOs5 operating within the Jamaican territory, children incarcerated for being “beyond parental control” are kept in the same detention centres as children convicted of criminal offences. There is also a gender dimension to this issue, as “the overwhelming majority of the children who are deemed ‘uncontrollable’ are girls” who usually have past histories of sexual or other abuse, mental illness, or both. As the NGOs conclude in their Report: “These children need a therapeutic rather than a penal response.” 

For what concerns the condition of women, Amnesty International has found that there Jamaica is now facing widespread “gender-based violence and domestic violence […] with high numbers of women killed by their spouse or partner.” Specifically, Amnesty International reported the experience of a Jamaican sex worker who was arrested since prostitution is illegal in the country:

“When we arrived at the police station we were ridiculed and chastised. We were being looked down on as being trash and not being good persons. They used many negative words against us ‘prostitute’, ‘old whore’, ‘nasty girl’. No one explained what was happening. No one offered me a lawyer. I didn’t even realize I was under arrest; nobody told me that.”

 

LGBTI rights

The LGBTI community is probably the one facing, at the current moment, most abuses in Jamaica. With consensual sex between men remaining criminalised, LGBTI people keep on being discriminated whilst carrying out daily activities. For instance, they’ve reported discriminatory treatment in accessing healthcare with doctors and medical staff treating them in a humiliating way.6 

These discriminatory behaviours escalate, at points, in violent mobs against LGBTI people who, sometimes, even lost their lives. These attacks and threats, examples of which have been provided by JFLAG’s Report, violate human rights protected by Articles 6 (life), 7 (torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment), and 9 (security of person) of the ICCPR.

Moreover, as a consequence of these abuses, homelessness and displacement of LGBTI youths is now a widespread phenomenon in Jamaica. Young people are pushed out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and continue to live in storm drains and abandoned buildings.6 Others manage to leave the country and seek for asylum elsewhere. This was the case, for instance, of Maurice Tomlinson, lawyer and activist who now works with the NGO JFLAG. After having felt like he had to “cure” his homosexuality (a common belief in Jamaica that sometimes involves rape techniques to, again, “cure” the gay person), Maurice finally came to terms with his sexuality and married his husband. However, after he received a string of death threats, he fled his native country for Canada.

 

Regrettably, Jamaica has not amended its laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity yet.7 Hence, while the Government has shown a willingness to facilitate a culture of tolerance and respect, much more needs to be done. As Human Rights Watch has noted, there is a strong need for “rigorous investigations into all allegations of anti-LGBT hate crimes8 as well as into other human rights violations. We can only hope, now, that the 118th session of the Human Rights Committee will pave the way for new, effective change.

 

1 Amnesty International, “Jamaica 2015/2016 – Annual Report.” Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/jamaica/report-jamaica/

2 Jamaicans  for  Justice  (JFJ),  the  Caribbean  Vulnerable  Communities Coalition  (CVC),  the  Jamaica  Youth  Advocacy  Network  (JYAN),  J-FLAG, Stand Up for Jamaica (2016) “Civil Society Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, Submitted for the Review of the Fourth Periodic Report of Jamaica (CCPR/C/JAM/4) at the 118th session of the Human Rights Committee. Available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/JAM/INT_CCP...

3 Amnesty International, Op. cit.

4 Stand Up for Jamaica, Jamaicans for Justice, Shannon Hendricks, former Legal/Policy Officer, Office of the Children’s Advocate (Jamaica), Center for International Human Rights (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law) (2016) “Incarceration of children considered beyond parental control”, Submitted for consideration at the 118th Session of the Human Rights Committee. Available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/JAM/INT_CCP...

5 J-FLAG, Women’s Empowerment for Change, Global Initiatives for Human Rights of Heartland Alliance for, et al. (2016) “Human Rights Violations against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People in Jamaica: A Shadow Report”, Submitted for consideration at the 118th Session of the Human Rights Committee. Available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/JAM/INT_CCP...

6 Amnesty International, Op. cit.

7 J-FLAG Report, Op. cit.

8 REID Graeme (2015) “You Don't Have To Swing To Beat Up Gays”, Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/09/you-dont-have-swing-beat-gays

 

MR - Research Assistant at CIPADH

 

Webography

Amnesty International, “Jamaica 2015/2016 – Annual Report.” Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/jamaica/report-jamaica/

Apple (2016) “"I feel scared all the time." - A Jamaican sex worker tells her story”, Amnesty International. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/05/apple-sex-worker-testimon...

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/ccpr.pdf

Jamaicans  for  Justice  (JFJ),  the  Caribbean  Vulnerable  Communities Coalition  (CVC),  the  Jamaica  Youth  Advocacy  Network  (JYAN),  J-FLAG, Stand Up for Jamaica (2016) “Civil Society Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, Submitted for the Review of the Fourth Periodic Report of Jamaica (CCPR/C/JAM/4) at the 118th session of the Human Rights Committee. Available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/JAM/INT_CCP...

J-FLAG, Women’s Empowerment for Change, Global Initiatives for Human Rights of Heartland Alliance for, et al. (2016) “Human Rights Violations against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People in Jamaica: A Shadow Report”, Submitted for consideration at the 118th Session of the Human Rights Committee. Available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/JAM/INT_CCP...

LEVERIDGE Candiese (2012) “"I tried not to be gay by getting married" — Tomlinson”, Jamaica Observer. Available at: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-I-tried-not-to-be-gay-by-getting-ma...

OHCHR (2016) General documentation for the 118th Session of the Human Rights Committee. Available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1....

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, People, “Maurice Tomlinson.” Available at: http://pulitzercenter.org/people/maurice-tomlinson

REID Graeme (2015) “You Don't Have To Swing To Beat Up Gays”, Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/09/you-dont-have-swing-beat-gays

Stand Up for Jamaica, Jamaicans for Justice, Shannon Hendricks, former Legal/Policy Officer, Office of the Children’s Advocate (Jamaica), Center for International Human Rights (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law) (2016) “Incarceration of children considered beyond parental control”, Submitted for consideration at the 118th Session of the Human Rights Committee. Available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/JAM/INT_CCP...

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