A report on the alarming levels of violence in Jamaica issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has prompted Jamaican officials to consider introducing legislation to protect minority groups, such as gays and lesbians, who have been victims of violence and discrimination.
The Washington D.C.-based human rights group conducted years of investigation in the Caribbean nation, holding several public hearings, traveling to Jamaica for an on-site visit in December 2008, and exchanging information with government and non-governmental organizations.
In an account called “Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Jamaica,” the IACHR commission details its findings on the security and human rights of Jamaicans and the institutional weaknesses in the administration of justice. It also looked at the problems of excessive force by police, the conditions in prisons and penitentiaries, and the legal process used in death penalty cases.
Jamaica recently gave the group updated information that showed there has been a decrease in homicides on the island in recent years. But the commission said, “… the rate of violent deaths remains high, and requires the allocation of adequate resources, the strengthening of the capacity and professionalism of the security forces and the judicial process, and the application of integral, effective policies to address the social conditions that generate the violence.”
The commission also found that the poorest members of Jamaican society were disproportionately victimized by violence and the state has not instituted adequate measures to protect women, children and other vulnerable groups.
“In particular, the IACHR finds the violent persecution and fear to which gays and lesbians are subject in Jamaica to be a priority human rights challenge,” the report said.
Jamaica’s Minister of Justice Mark Golding conceded that specific legislation is needed to adequately deal with certain types of discrimination. In an interview with RJR News on Thursday, Golding said that though the Charter of Rights gives Constitutional protection to individuals, the laws need to be targeted to better protect those victimized by discrimination.
“It was designed in such a way that it has put some limits on the ability of those minority groups to use the Constitution as a tool for challenging laws that they consider to be not in their interest,” he said. “I don’t think the courts under the present configuration are the mechanism by which persons will be vindicated. I think it will require some legislative intervention.”
In addition, Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica’s new prime minister, has expressed her desire to improve Jamaica’s commitment to human rights.
“Our administration believes in protecting the human rights of all Jamaicans. No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Government should provide the protection…,” she said last month in a debate.