Amnesty International chides Jamaica on violence

1/04/2008 - 19:54

By Horace Helps

KINGSTON (Reuters) - Amnesty International chided theJamaican government on Tuesday for what it called its failureto protect inner-city residents trapped by violence betweenarmed criminal gangs and police.

"Criminal gangs make up a small proportion of the communitypopulation, but their actions are devastating, they keepthousands of people living in constant fear and provide anexcuse for government officials to label all community membersas criminals," said the human rights organization's researcheron Jamaica, Fernanda Doz Costa.

"We call upon the Jamaican authorities to urgently put inmeasures to tackle the underlying causes of public security andhuman rights crisis, which includes the reduction of thehomicide rate in inner-city communities, the introduction ofhuman rights-based policing and the reform of the judicialsystem to improve access to justice," Doz Costa said.

The organization released a report that detailed incidentsof police and gang activities that endanger inner-cityresidents.

"Poor inner-city Jamaicans are paying the price of thispublic security crisis with their lives," Doz Costa said.

"They are being held hostage in an endless confrontationbetween criminal gangs, police officers who kill with impunityand authorities who are failing to protect their human rights,"she said.

Amnesty said the Caribbean nation of 2.8 million people hasone of the highest rates of violence and police killings in theAmericas. There were more than 1,550 murders last year, while272 citizens were killed by police.

"Most of the citizens killed live in deprived communitieswhere unemployment, education services, access to health care,poor sanitation and limited supplies of drinking water areprevalent," Doz Costa said.

Two inner-city community activists also called on Jamaicanauthorities to protect their citizens more.

"The police believe that nothing good can come out of theinner-city," said Sonia White, head of the Trench Town Peaceand Justice Centre in the heart of the volatile west Kingstonneighbourhood that was the boyhood home of Reggae legend BobMarley.

"It's not all about guns in Trench Town. There are lawabiding citizens who are victims of verbal and physical abuseby police. There are many times that I have to be the eulogistat several needless funerals," White said.

The head of the Fletcher's Land Parenting Association,Arlene Bailey, said measures must be instituted to protectcitizens, who have learned not to wait on politicians to fixtheir problems.

"For example, we impose a 9 o'clock curfew at night, whenwe take our children off the streets for their own protection,"Bailey said.

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Vicki Allen)

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