Amnesty International Public Statement on Hanging in Jamaica

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

26 November 2008

Jamaica: More executions will not reduce crime

Jamaica’s crime epidemic must be solved with reforms to the police and the justice system, not with more death, said Amnesty International after the Jamaican House of Representatives voted a motion to retain the death penalty.

“Supporting the death penalty to tackle Jamaica’s spiralling violence and crime is like trying to put out a fire with petrol,” said Kerrie Howard, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “In order to put that fire out, its root causes need to be tackled.”

Amnesty International called on the Jamaican government to prioritize policy changes to reduce crime and convert these changes into effective action. These include implementing recommendations from the strategic review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Justice Sector Reform Review and expediting the passage of legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate police abuses and an Office of Coroner to examine alleged police killings.

“We all agree that crime is an issue that must urgently be addressed. However, executions offer only an illusion of effective action being taken and do nothing to lessen suffering in Jamaican society,” said Kerrie Howard.

Notes to Editors
The vote emerged in the light of discussions around the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms Bill, which seeks to replace Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution dedicated to the protection of fundamental rights and freedom of persons. The purpose of the vote was to decide whether provisions allowing for the death penalty as an exception to the right to life, should be retained or deleted from the Charter.

Following the vote at the House of Representatives, the Senate will also shortly debate and vote the motion.

The last execution in Jamaica was carried out on 18 February 1988. There were more than 190 prisoners under sentence of death at the end of 1988. Currently there are nine prisoners on death row. This reduction is principally attributable to three events:
In 1992 the Jamaican Parliament amended the Offences Against the Person Act to classify some murders as non-capital. The amendment applied retroactively and resulted in the commutation of sentences to life imprisonment of a number people who had previously been mandatorily sentenced to death.
In 1993 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (currently Jamaica’s highest court which sits in England) decided, in the case of Pratt and Morgan v. the Attorney General of Jamaica, that executing a person who has spent a prolonged period on death row violates Section 17 of the Constitution of Jamaica, which prohibits “inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment”.
In compliance with the guidance set out in this case, death sentences of people who have served five years on death row in Jamaica are commuted to life imprisonment. As a result of the 2004 decision of the JCPC in Lambert Watson v The Attorney General of Jamaica, mandatory death sentences are no longer allowed in Jamaica. Following this decision, new sentencing hearings were held and many death row prisoners had their sentences commuted.

Jamaica, along with the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean nations, voted against a global moratorium on the death penalty at the 62nd UN General Assembly in December 2007.

The world is turning away from the use of death penalty. Since 2003, the United States has been the only country in the Americas to carry out executions and has dramatically decreased in the number of executions in recent years. 137 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice and only 24 nations carried out executions in 2007. Huge swathes of the world are now free from executions.

END/

Public Document
****************************************
For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: press@amnesty.org
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK
http://www.amnesty.org/

Amnesty International Public Statement on Hanging in Jamaica

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENT
AI Index No: AMR 38/005/2008 19 November 2008

Jamaica: A return to hanging will not solve public security crisis

As Jamaican Parliamentarians are due to vote shortly a motion on whether to retain the death penalty, Amnesty International calls on the Jamaica authorities to reject the death penalty and instead prioritize reforms to the police and justice system in order to tackle the country’s violent crime epidemic.

The vote has emerged in the light of discussion around the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms Bill, which seeks to replace Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution dedicated to the protection of fundamental rights and freedom of persons. The purpose of the vote is to decide whether provisions creating the death sentence exceptions to the right to life and to protection from torture or inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment, should be retained or deleted from the Charter. This vote also comes at a time of spiralling violent crime in a country with one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world.

Amnesty International understands that high levels of criminality create victim after victim and welcomes the Jamaican government’s commitment to addressing violent crime. However, the organization strongly believes that the use of the death penalty, as well as constituting a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, is not an effective method of preventing crime.

Given the unlikelihood of ever being brought before the courts, it is highly implausible that before committing a crime a criminal would consider the risk of being hung and would refrain from wrong-doing. On the contrary, the retention of the death penalty spreads across the society the message that killing is permitted. The death penalty also runs the risk of irrevocable error. Country after country, including Jamaica, has inflicted the death penalty upon those innocent of the crime for which they were condemned. Numerous studies have also shown that it tends to be applied discriminatorily on grounds of race and class. In a country like Jamaica, where the criminal justice system is deeply flawed and corruption is rife throughout different institutions, how can the public have confidence that the state will not kill innocent people?

Amnesty International believes that the true solution to the appalling crime situation does not lie with the death penalty. The answers can be found instead be prioritizing reforms to the police and justice system that are already under way. These include implementing recommendations from the strategic review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Justice Sector Reform Review and expediting the passage of legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate police abuses and an Office of Coroner to examine alleged police killings.

The world is turning away from the use of death penalty. Since 2003, the United States has been the only country in the Americas to carry out executions and a dramatic decrease in the number of executions there has taken place in recent years. One hundred and thirty seven have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice and only 24 nations carried out executions in 2007. Huge swathes of the world are now free from executions.

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Amnesty International calls on Jamaica to join the international trend that executions serve no useful purpose and have a brutalising effect upon any society that uses them. Jamaica’s decision-makers urgently need to de-politicise the issue of capital punishment and take concrete steps to conceive and implement effective measures to decrease the alarming levels of violent crime. The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.

Background The last execution in Jamaica was carried out on 18 February 1988. There were more than a 190 prisoners under sentence of death at the end of 1988. Currently there are nine prisoners on death row. The reduction is principally attributable to three events. In 1992 the Jamaican Parliament amended the Offences Against the Person Act to classify some murders as non-capital. The amendment applied retroactively and resulted in the commutation of sentences to life imprisonment of a number people who had been previously mandatorily sentenced to death. In 1993 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (currently Jamaica’s highest court which sits in England) decided, in the case of Pratt and Morgan v. the Attorney General of Jamaica, that executing a person who has spent a prolonged period on death row violates Section 17 of the Constitution of Jamaica, which prohibits “inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment”. In compliance with the guidance set out in this case, sentences of death of people who have served five years on death row in Jamaica are commuted to life imprisonment. As a result of the 2004 decision of the JCPC in Lambert Watson v The Attorney General of Jamaica, mandatory sentences of death are no longer allowed in Jamaica. Following this decision, new sentencing hearings were held and many death row prisoners had their sentences commuted.

Jamaica, along with the rest of the English-speaking Caribbean nations, voted against a global moratorium on the death penalty at the 62nd UN General Assembly in December 2007.

END/

Public Document **************************************** For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: press@amnesty.org

International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK http://www.amnesty.org/

AMNESTY USA – OUTfront! Jamaican report (Flashback)

Amnesty International OUTfront! Jamaican report (June 2004):
Battyboys affi dead: action against homophobia in Jamaica

In January 2004, around 30,000 people attended a huge stage show and Rastafarian celebration, Rebel Salute, in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Some of Jamaica’s most celebrated artists were present. Throughout the night, Capleton, Sizzla and others sang almost exclusively about gay men. Using the derogatory terms for gay men – “chi chi men” or “battybwoys” they urged the audience to “kill dem, battybwoys haffi dead, gun shots pon dem… who want to see dem dead put up his hand” (kill them, gay men have got to die, gun shots in their head, whoever wants to see them dead, put up your hand).

Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, TOK, and Capleton are amongst the stars who have written lyrics variously urging the shooting, burning, rape, stoning and drowning of gay people.

From Buju Banton’s Boom Bye Bye, which threatened “batty boys” with “ah gunshot in ah head”, to Beenie Man’s “I’m dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays” to Babycham & Bounty Killer’s “Bun a fire pon a kuh pon mister fagoty, Ears ah ben up and a wince under agony, Poop man fi drown a dat a yawd man philosophy” (Burn gay men, til they wince under agony, gay men should drown, that’s the yard man’s philosophy), the exhortations to kill and maim seem to know no bounds.

Deadly Lyrics”When yuh hear a Sodomite get raped…
But a fi wi fault…
It’s wrong
Two women gonna hock up inna bed
That’s two Sodomites dat fi dead.”

(Sodomites — A derogatory term for lesbians)

– Elephant Man
“When you hear of a lesbian getting raped
It’s not our fault
It’s wrong
Two women in bed
That’s two Sodomites who should be dead.”

Although the singers are Jamaican, their records are widely distributed abroad. Recently organisations in Jamaica such as J-FLAG, Jamaica’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group, have been joined by others around the world targeting the artists themselves, as well as radio stations, record labels and music stores that have distributed and promoted the songs.

The groups have sought to bring the lyrics to the attention of the public and the authorities. In December 2003, campaigners from the British gay rights group OutRage called on the British police to arrest Bounty Killer for incitement and conspiracy to commit murder, amongst other offences, during a UK tour. As the group stated in a letter to the Metropolitan Police, “in a democratic society people have a right to criticise homosexuality, but they do not have the right to encourage queer-bashing violence and murder.”

The problem of homophobia in Jamaica goes far beyond any single artist however. Here, reports of violence regularly meted out to members of the LGBT community have reached such an extent that they have started to attract international headlines. Action is needed on a much wider scale to systematically tackle the prejudice that inspires the attacks and the laws which facilitate them.

“My experience as a gay man living in Jamaica is one which is marked by periodic incidences of abuse, both verbal and physical. I have lost count of the number of times I have been verbally abused, called ‘battyman’, ‘chi-chi’, ‘sodomite’, ‘dirty battybwoy’ (all derogatory terms for homosexual men).”
— Gay man, talking to J-Flag, 2003.
The reports that AI has received range from vigilante action by members of the community to ill-treatment or torture by the police. Gay men and women have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality. In the past two years at least 5 Jamaicans have been granted asylum in the UK because their lives had been threatened as a result of their sexual identity; others have been granted asylum in the USA and Canada. AI believes that these reports are just the tip of the iceberg however. Many gay men and women in Jamaica are too afraid to speak of their experiences to human rights organizations or to the authorities.

One man described to J-FLAG how six men from an infamous “garrison community” (poor, inner-city communities controlled by either of Jamaica’s two main political parties) blocked a road to beat a local gay man.

“The crowd stood around watching, chanting “battyman, battyman, battyman” before gathering around him as he lay on the sidewalk. The crowd beat, punched and kicked him. They threw water from the gutter and garbage on him, all the while shouting “battyman, battyman.” Then they dragged him down the road for half a kilometre. They shouted “battyman fi’ dead.” As I stood across the street I realised there was nothing I could do to help him. Some mothers were actually in tears at what they were witnessing but there was nothing that they could do either. … The crowd was saying “Give him to us! Let us kill him! He’s a battyman!”
When police arrived they had to call for back-up. Three police jeeps arrived and fired shots into the air to clear the crowd.

The story is typical. Once a person’s sexuality becomes known to family or community, they are at risk. Amnesty International has interviewed many people who have been forced to leave their areas after being publicly vilified, threatened or attacked on suspicion of being gay. They face homelessness, isolation or worse.

In a particularly egregious recent example, a national newspaper reported in February 2004 that a father had encouraged students to attack his son after he discovered a picture of a nude man in his rucksack. One student described the attack on the 16-year old on 18th February 2004 by other students: “him get nuff lick, kick, box and thump from other boy and girl.” School authorities were forced to call police to escort the boy off the compound. Police were also attacked. Students received a “stern warning” but, at the time of writing, no-one had been charged in connection with the assaults.

One man was forced to leave his community in 2003 after his friend was murdered and he was threatened by local gunmen. He is still homeless and living a hand-to-mouth existence.

“One morning, at about 2 a.m., my friend was at a dance in the community. He was enjoying himself and dancing and suddenly there was a gunshot and a bullet hit my friend in the back of his head. He turned around after realising he was shot and they shot him in his face again three more times. He fell, but they continued to shoot him as he lay on the ground. Then they announced that I was next and “battyman fi’ dead.”
Protection is often denied by the police, who in many cases appear to tacitly or actively support such violence. Amnesty International has received many reports of police failing to investigate homophobic-hate crimes. In some cases they fail even to take written or verbal reports of incidents. One man called the police after running into a supermarket to escape from an attack in Half Way Tree, Kingston:

“We waited more than half an hour and still the police did not come. The police station is less than five minutes away. We eventually realised that the police were not in fact on their way and decided to see if we could leave safely. We were shaken by this incident, but doubly upset because the police had not responded to this homophobic attack.”
In many instances, the police have tortured or ill-treated LGBT victims of crime seeking assistance from the police. AI has received numerous reports of police arresting and detaining men overnight whom they suspect of being gay, or charging them with offences such as loitering. In some cases individuals have appeared in court several times before charges were dropped. In other cases known to the organisation, police have stopped passers-by or placed gay men in the holding-area of police station, informing those present of the “batty-men” and encouraging further verbal or physical abuse.

An example of the kind of treatment LGBT individuals can expect from the police occurred in 2003 when a group of gay men were attacked, beaten, ill-treated and detained by plain clothes police officers as they socialized together in a bar frequented by the gay community in Kingston. One of the victims described what happened to J-FLAG:

“All of a sudden, a white van pulled through the gate and men armed with firearms jumped out of the vehicle and starting to fire shots into the crowd. We scattered in all directions, jumping fences and dividing for cover. A group of three of my friends and I began to run. They could jump the fence, but I had difficulty so they had to drag me over the fence with men chasing us and firing at us. This happened three times and each time I was dragged over the fence I fell on my head. Finally, we got to a residence and I hid behind a tree. My friend was not fast enough to find a hiding place and the two men who had been chasing us caught him and began to beat him with their fists and their weapons, kicked him as he lay on the ground, calling him a battyman. They took him away.

I met up with some of the guys from the crowd on my way home, and found out that my friend had been taken to the police station, and that the men who had attacked us were plain-clothes policemen. When I saw my friend later, he told me that they verbally abused him at the station and had told their co-workers that he was a battyman and they began to verbally abuse him as well. They held him overnight and released him. He was not charged with any offence.”

Police appear to also target healthcare providers working with LGBT individuals and there have been several reports of nurses, community workers or others being unlawfully detained and ill-treated by the police. In 2003, three men were detained and searched by the police in Half-Way Tree. When asked by the police why they had condoms on them, they reportedly stated that they were promoting safe sex to both men and women. Police told the men that they were to be locked up for promoting “battybusiness”. The men were crowded into the back of a police car as none of the officers wanted to sit next to them. They were not allowed to let their bodies touch the policeman who was also sitting in the back of the vehicle. At the police station, other officers told them that they should be dead and that policemen should have killed them rather than bringing them into the station. Police pointed them out as “battymen” to everyone who came into the station. The men were released after three hours.

“We did not report this to the police because my friend felt, based on past experience, that the police would be unsympathetic and possibly abusive too.”
— Man attacked with rocks by three armed men in 2003.
This kind of behavior from police officers means that an accurate picture of the number of victims of homophobic violence in Jamaica is impossible. Since so much shame and disbelief surrounds violence against the gay community – and since victims can not expect to receive the protection of the law – the number of men and women who report abuse is assumed to be many times fewer that the number of actual incidents.

The police are not the only authority to actively discriminate against non-heterosexual individuals. Reports of individuals losing their jobs once their sexuality has become known to their employer are common. Sometimes medical staff have reportedly joined in abusing gay or lesbian patients. When a group of gay men accompanied their friend to hospital after he was attacked, stabbed and robbed, they were verbally abused by staff in the accident and emergency department. One told J-FLAG that:

“The porters, janitors, and even some of the nurses laughed at us. They took a much longer time than usual to attend to us; we got to the hospital at about 10 p.m. and they did not attend to us until the next morning.”
Although lesbianism is not a criminal offence under Jamaican law, gay men are not the only targets of this kind of violence in Jamaica. Amnesty has assisted in several cases of lesbian women from Jamaica who have sought asylum abroad following persecution at home. Amnesty International has received reports of acts of violence against lesbians, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. There are reports of lesbians being singled out for attack on the grounds of “mannish” physical appearance or other visible manifestations of sexuality. Some reports of abduction and rape emanate from inner-city garrison communities where local NGOs have already expressed concerns about very high incidences of the prevalence of violence against women. There are some reports that lesbian women have been forced to carry drugs by community gangs, on threat of, or after having been abducted, beaten or otherwise degraded or assaulted.

Perhaps fuelling such acts is the widespread public misconception that lesbianism is illegal. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the public is largely unaware that this is not in fact the case. This perception is reinforced by comments made by authority figures, such as politicians, the media, religious leaders and dancehall musicians. A Gleaner/Don Anderson poll of September 2001 posed the question “do you think that homosexuality should be legalised?” – drawing no distinction between male or female same-sex relations. According to the Jamaican NGO J-FLAG, the derogatory Jamaican word for lesbian, “sodomite”, further underlines this misconception, as the word derives from an imputation against males.

Against this backdrop of high levels of violent crime – including murder – against gay and lesbian people in Jamaica, tacitly accepted by the police, are the laws that continue to criminalise consensual gay sex between males. Article 76 of the Jamaican Offences against the Person Act punishes the “abominable crime of buggery” by up to ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour. Article 79 of the same act punishes any act of physical intimacy between men in public or private by a term of imprisonment of up to two years and the possibility of hard labour.

Jamaica is not the only country within the region that retains laws criminalising consensual sex between adults of the same sex. Only two English-speaking Caribbean countries do not criminalise this at all: the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. Here, reports of discrimination and ill-treatment are still common. In July 2003, a Bahamian Bishop threatened to become the first “live Guy Fawkes” if the Government passed legislation legalizing same sex marriage. “The devil and every demon in hell can expect the church to react because God has done too much for us,” he reportedly said. Jamaican and Guyanese laws are silent on lesbianism, whilst in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Saint Lucia, all acts of homosexuality are illegal.

Such acts of violence are set against a public which appears to strongly endorse the idea of differential treatment. A recent poll showed that 96% of Jamaicans were opposed to any move that would seek to legalise homosexual relations. Many churches have released statements indicating their support for the retention of current laws. In December 2001, Roman Catholic bishops in the Caribbean stated that they would be against decriminalising consensual sex between consenting adults. In 2001, the Jamaican Prime Minister reiterated his support for the exclusion of gay men from the Boy Scouts movement.

The risks facing LGBT people in Jamaica are increased because of the lack of effective governmental programmes catering to the needs of the gay and lesbian community. From the lack of effective victim support or witness protection schemes, to ineffective and oftentimes brutal policing, to an absence of refuges, the authorities are, in the organisation’s view, unable to protect LGBT people in need.

In such a climate, the activities of J-FLAG are crucial. At the forefront of lobbying and campaigning on the issue in Jamaica, their work supporting LGBT people and promoting an agenda of inclusion and equality in extremely hostile conditions is essential. Their activities include running a telephone helpline, workshops and training of authorities, including health care workers, media and students . However the NGO has very limited funds and their activities can not and should not replace actions by the state to fulfil its international legal obligations to protect citizens from violence (the “due diligence” concept).

The way forward?
Is there an impetus for reform from within Jamaica? The Prime Minister of Jamaica has publicly confirmed his intention to retain legislation which discriminates against homosexuals on many occasions.

In 2000 the Jamaican parliament discussed J-FLAG proposals to amend the current bill of rights to the Constitution to include prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Section 24(3) of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour or creed. The proposals were rejected in June 2001 by a Parliamentary Special Select Committee. The Committee reportedly feared that the provision would force reform of other laws, such as those on marriage and taxation.

In December 2001, a parliamentary Select Committee recommended that Parliament review laws criminalising consensual gay sex. The proposals were rejected by Parliament in January 2002.

The senior medical officer, Dr Figueroa, subsequently called for homosexuality to be decriminalised in February 2002 at an AIDS conference. Other health professionals voiced concern at the extent to which stigma against gay people contributed to Jamaica’s inability to reduce the prevalence of HIV and AIDS. Although some individuals in the public eye occasionally voice opinions which are supportive of legislative reform with regard to the law in this area, Amnesty International believes that they do not in themselves negate a public climate that is enduringly hostile towards LGBT individuals, and which is characterised by frequent comments from those in authority condemning homosexuals. Indeed, the government reasserted after the conference that its position on homosexuality, including its decriminalisation, remained unchanged. Responding to Dr. Figueroa’s comments, an editorial in the Jamaica Gleaner at the time noted that, “we suspect … that this proposal will not get anywhere fast in this homophobic society.”

With thanks for J-FLAG for sharing case histories for this action.
This is an internal briefing though the cases can be cited in actions.

What You Can Do

Take Action!Take action to protect LGBT people in Jamaica. Call for a debate on the repeal of sodomy laws, and for legal reform to protect LGBT people from violence and discrimination.

Donate securely to JFLAG or us here (see paypal donations buttons on this blog)

Amnesty International report "discrimination against women and gay men"

Amnesty International Report on police killings Wednesday, 28 May 2008 The Annual global human rights report from Amnesty International has cited Jamaica’s high murder rate and an increase in police killings being among major blots on the country’s human rights record.

The report has recorded high incidents of police brutality, violence against women and a failing justice system.

Of Jamaica, Amnesty writes that murder rates and police killings in socially excluded inner city communities remain at a high level with another record high for murders during 2007 of more than 1,500 people.

There are also reports of increased police brutality with reports of 203 people killed by the police between January and September.

The report also says violence and discrimination against women and gay men was widespread.

Amnesty also spoke of police excesses and reports that several persons were killed by the police.

It also reported on Trinidad’s witness protection programme saying the programme was constantly being criticised.

Bahamas was bashed in the report for cases of violence against women.

to view more go to:
Amnesty condemns homophobic violence:
More:
Human Rights Treaties: