A major United States government report has highlighted weaknesses in Jamaica’s judicial system that “obstruct access to justice for victims of crime and their families and allegedly unlawful killings by government security forces”.
The US findings are contained in the 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practice, which Secretary of State John Kerry submitted to the US equivalent of Jamaica’s Parliament yesterday, April 13.
Top of the list of “serious” human rights issues was what the US calls an “overburdened, under-resourced, and dysfunctional judicial system”.
The report covered areas including prisons, the security forces, and the conduct of trials throughout the court system.
Regarding prisons, the report pointed to a range of issues, including the treatment of prisoners and the upholding of the rights of detainees.
“Dilapidated buildings, inconsistent health care, and overcrowding in some facilities presented challenges to the prison and detention centre systems,” the report said, pointing out, too, that female prisoners were “generally provided better conditions than male inmates”.
In addition, it said, medical care was limited in Jamaica’s prisons, there is “no specific prisoner ombudsman”, and infrequent official complaints and investigations.
Executive Summary of the report finding:
2015 Human Rights Reports: Jamaica
Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The People’s National Party (PNP) led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller controlled 42 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives. International election observers deemed the 2011 general elections transparent, free, fair, and without violence. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most serious human rights issues were an overburdened, under-resourced, and dysfunctional judicial system, which obstructed access to justice for victims of crime and their families, and allegedly unlawful killings by government security forces.
Other human rights issues included inadequate prison and jail conditions; violence against and sexual abuse of children; and violence and discrimination against women, and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
The government’s efforts resulted in charging a much larger number of police officers with abuses than the previous year. A lack of willing witnesses and inefficiencies in the judiciary, however, continued to plague the justice system, and trials languished.
The US government acknowledged that “the government has increasingly effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in general”, but it said “lengthy trials with numerous delays continued to be a systemic problem”.
The report claims that “at times, cases were even dismissed due to delay tactics, including no-shows by witnesses, challenges empanelling juries, antiquated rules of evidence, and lack of equipment for collecting and storing evidence”.
In March, the US released its 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which accused Jamaica’s judiciary of having what it called a poor record of successfully prosecuting corruption cases against high-level law enforcement and government officials.