The United States of America, which has itself been criticized for police and other abuses, continues to decry human rights practices in Caribbean Community (Caricom) member-states, saying that many of them are still engaged in egregious practices that derail democracy.
In its 2015 edition of the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” released here last Wednesday, the US Department of State pointed to what it described as “a global governance crisis” in which it said the respect for the rule of law in some Caricom states is inadequate and this is exacerbated by a deficient judicial system and chronic corruption in some branches of Government, among other things.
In Haiti, the State Department said the most serious impediments to human rights involved weak democratic governance worsened by the dissolution of Parliament in January, when the terms of all deputies and two-thirds of the Senate expired.
The department said there was also insufficient respect for the rule of law, worsened by “a deficient judicial system and chronic corruption in all branches of Government.”
Other human rights problems in Haiti included “isolated allegations of arbitrary and unlawful killings by Government officials; allegations of use of force against suspects and protesters; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; prolonged pretrial detention; an inefficient, unreliable, and inconsistent judiciary; and governmental confiscation of private property without due process,” the report said.
Additionally, the State Department said there were reports of rape, violence and societal discrimination against women; child abuse; allegations of social marginalization of vulnerable populations; and trafficking in persons.
Violence, including gender-based violence, and crime within the remaining internally displaced persons (IDP) camps remained a problem, the report said.
“Although the Government took steps to prosecute or punish government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses, credible reports persisted of officials engaging in corrupt practices, and civil society groups alleged that impunity was a problem,” the State Department said.
It said the most serious human rights problem in Suriname was the “unresolved trial” of President Desire Delano Bouterse and 22 co-defendants for the 1982 extra-judicial killings of 15 political opponents, “a trial that exemplifies deeper doubts about judicial independence in the country.”
Other human rights problems in Suriname included: Police brutality; poor conditions in detention centres; self-censorship by media organisations and journalists; widespread Government corruption; and violence and abuse against women and children.
The State Department also said other issues included trafficking in persons; continued lack of recognition of land rights for Maroons – the descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the hinterland, and Amerindians; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and other minorities; and child labour in the informal sector.
In Jamaica, the report said “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” were the most serious human rights issues.
According to the report, other human rights issues in Jamaica included inadequate prison and jail conditions; violence against and sexual abuse of children; and violence and discrimination against women, and against (LGBTI) persons.
The State Department said the Jamaican Government’s efforts resulted in charging a much larger number of police officers with abuses than the previous year.
But the report said a lack of willing witnesses and inefficiencies in the judiciary “continued to plague the justice system”, adding that trials continued to languish.
Stating that civilian authorities in Guyana, at times, did not maintain effective control over the security forces in 2015, the State Department said the most significant human rights problems were “arbitrary killings by the Government or its agents; allegations of Government corruption, including among police officials”, and laws that discriminate against women and LGBTI persons.
Other human rights problems in Guyana included lengthy pretrial detention.
“There was a lack of independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuses by security force members,” the report said.
“Prosecutions, when pursued, were extremely lengthy, and convictions rare, leading to a widespread perception that security force members and Government officials enjoyed impunity,” it added.
In the Bahamas, the State Department said the most serious human rights problems were “mistreatment of irregular migrants, compounded by problems in processing them; an inefficient judicial system, resulting in trial delays and an increase in retaliatory crime against both witnesses and alleged perpetrators; and the perception of impunity on the part of law enforcement and immigration officials accused of using excessive force.”
Other human rights problems in the Bahamas, the report said, included substandard detention conditions; corruption; violence and discrimination against women; sexual abuse of children; and discrimination based on ethnic descent, sexual orientation, or HIV status.
The report said, however, that, in some cases, the Government took action against police officers and other officials accused of abuse of power.
For Belize, the State Department said the most important human rights abuses included the use of excessive force by security forces, especially the police; lengthy pretrial detention; and harassment and threats based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Other human rights problems included corruption by officials, domestic violence, discrimination against women, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, and child labour.
“In some cases, the Government took steps to prosecute public officers who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but there were few successful prosecutions,” the report said.
“While many lower-ranking officials faced disciplinary action and/or criminal charges for alleged abuses, higher-ranking officials were less likely to face punishment, resulting in a perception of impunity,” it added.
The State Department identified police mistreatment of suspects, detainees and prisoners; poor prison conditions and a slow judicial system; and violence and discrimination against women as the most serious human rights issues in Trinidad and Tobago.
It said other human rights problems in the twin-island republic involved high-profile cases of alleged bribery and corruption; inadequate services for vulnerable populations, such as children and persons with disabilities; and laws that discriminate against LGBTI persons.
“The Government took some steps to punish security force members and other officials charged with killings or other abuse, but there continued to be a perception of impunity based on the open-ended nature of many investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings,” the report said.
It said other human rights problems included child abuse and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
In St Lucia, the report said the most serious human rights problems included long delays in investigating reports of unlawful police killings, abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, and continued postponements of trials and sentencing.
Other human rights problems included violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination against persons based on their “real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” the report said.
“Although the Government took limited steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses, the procedure for investigating police officers was lengthy, cumbersome, and often inconclusive,” it added.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the State Department said gender-based violence and police impunity were the most serious human rights problems.
The department said other human rights problems included official corruption; lack of Government transparency; discrimination; child abuse; and laws that discriminate against LGBTI persons.
Government procedures exist to investigate violations, but few reports of violations were made,” the department said.
In St Kitts and Nevis, the most serious human rights problems were poor prison conditions and discrimination and violence against women, the State Department said.
Other human rights problems, it said, included Government corruption, child abuse, and discrimination against the LGBTI community.
The report said the Timothy Harris Administration took steps to prosecute and convict officials who committed abuses, but added that “some cases remained unresolved”.
The most significant human rights abuses in Dominica, according to the State Department, included domestic and sexual violence against women and children.
Other human rights problems included laws that discriminated against LGBTI persons and discrimination against persons with disabilities, the department said.
It said the Dominica Government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, and that there were no known cases of impunity.
On the other hand, the most significant human rights abuses in Grenada included poor prison conditions, violence against women, child abuse, and laws against LGBTI persons, according to the report.
“Unprofessional conduct” by police, violence against women and discrimination against LGBTI individuals were the most serious human rights problems in Barbados, the report said.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WEP) says it will launch an emergency operation in Haiti to assist one million people devastated by three years of prolonged drought exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon.
WFP said that an estimated 3.6 million people – or one-third of Haiti’s population – face food insecurity.
This number includes more than 1.5 million who are severely food insecure and do not know where their next meal is coming from, according to an assessment by WFP and the National Co-ordination for Food Security.
“We must immediately help hungry Haitians. Drought and poverty should not force a child to go to bed hungry,” said WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin, ending a three-day visit to Haiti, where she met communities hit by drought and El Niño.
The assessment found that the main 2015 spring harvest was below average, with almost three-quarters of farmers reporting they had lost more than 82 per cent of production, WFP said.
For the 2016 spring season, 65 per cent of families said they could not plant due to a lack of agricultural inputs, according to WFP, adding that a scarcity of locally-produced food has led to price hikes of up to 60 per cent.
“We can help save lives and livelihoods now. We must work with the government, local communities and other partners, on longer-term asset development and climate smart agriculture programmes,” Cousin said.
“Poor Haitian farmers living in vulnerable places must have the capacity to endure future climate-related disasters. Working together we will begin building a future with zero hunger,” she added.
WFP said it initially responded with food distributions in Haiti for a two-month period to 120,000 people.
With the new emergency operation this week, WFP said it will assist one million people as Haiti enters the lean season from March to June when food stocks from the previous year run out.
WFP said some 700,000 people in Haiti will receive cash transfers, which will provide the poorest and most vulnerable with the ability to purchase food while at the same time strengthening local economies.
Another 300,000 people will be given a mix of cash transfers and food, WFP said.
In a second phase, it said 200,000people will receive food to work on watershed management and soil conservation projects, creating assets to help communities to plant small vegetable gardens.
WFP said it plans to assist pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children with a specialized blended cereal fortified with vitamins and minerals to prevent malnutrition.
While addressing the drought, WFP said it also aims to maintain the level of assistance to a school meals programme that today represents the country’s largest food-based safety net.
The UN agency’s school meals support government efforts to establish a Haitian-owned programme by 2030.
In coordination with the National School Meals Programme, WFP underlined that it will deliver daily hot meals to485, 000 schoolchildren in over 1,700 schools in nine of Haiti’s 10 departments until the end of April.
Unless new donations are received, WFP said the programme will only reach 320,000 children as of May.
However, WFP warned it cannot perform any of this work in Haiti without additional contributions, adding that it needs US$72 million for its drought-relief emergency operation from April to September, as well as seven million US dollars to maintain the level of school meals until the end of the next school year.
The agency indicated that it is grateful so far for a confirmed contribution to the new Haiti emergency operation from the European Commission and a pledged contribution from the United States.
Opposition spokesperson on transportation Mikael Phillips has called on the Government to quickly move the new Road Traffic Act through the Senate as the alarming incidents of road crashes around the island urgently need to be addressed.
In a statement, Phillips, who said he was alarmed at the growing number of fatalities on the nation’s roads, pointed to the crashes on the weekend which have added to the death toll.
Fifteen- and 24-year-old siblings Chevelle Lewis and Jermaine Lewis were killed in a crash in Spanish Town, St Catherine, on Saturday morning after the vehicle driven by the older Lewis reportedly crashed into a wall on Brunswick Avenue, in the old capital.
“An excessive number of motorcyclists are seen riding without helmets and in some instances, with pillion riders whom they are not licensed to carry. Motorcyclists have featured highly in a number of these road accidents and fatalities that have unfortunately taken place amid the meaningless mad rush and irrational decision making,” Phillips said, while calling on citizens to take responsibility for their own safety.
The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) has attributed the rising toll in crashes and fatalities, which stood at 1,127 at the end of the first week of April, to the increasing number of motorcycles on the nation’s streets, and the fact that many of the drivers have no training or practice in how to use the bikes. The NRSC noted that most of the bikes are imported from China and were not meant to be pushed to the excessive speeds at which they are being driven by inexperienced persons.
According to data from the NRSC, 112 per cent more motorcyclists died in 2015 than in 2014, while there was a 15 per cent drop in the number of pedestrians killed over the same period.
The updated Road Traffic Act includes a provision to make it mandatory for motorcyclists to hold a valid driver’s licence. At present, persons only need to have a provisional or ‘learner’s licence’ to operate a motorcycle, with no requirement for a permanent licence. The bill repeals and replaces the existing Road Traffic Act of 1938, in keeping with international road safety best practices.
The new Government has already named the road traffic bill among the list of legislation to be given attention by Parliament for the 2016/17 fiscal year.
Nineteen students from the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Cave Hill campus in Barbados have concluded a week-long study tour in Jamaica, where they examined the extent of the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
The tour is a part of a Public Education Programme organised by the CARICOM Secretariat titled: ‘Students Engaging the CARICOM Single Market and Economy through Field Promotion’.
It is aimed at fostering an understanding of the CSME and how it operates, by exposing and sensitising CARICOM nationals enrolled in tertiary institutions to the five regimes of the CSME.
These are: i) the free movement of goods; ii) the free movement of skills;
iii) the free movement of capital; iv) the provision of services; and (v) the right of establishment.
Funds for the trip was provided by the European Union under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and supporting the integration agendas of regional organisations.
During the week, the students met with business executives and toured Government and private sector entities, including the Jamaica Customs Agency, Jamaican Teas Limited and the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA).
A closing ceremony was held at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston on Friday (April 15), which was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the CARICOM Secretariat, and business entities.
Technical Advisor, Investment and Private Sector at the CARICOM Secretariat Office of Trade Negotiations, Joel Richards, said that the objective was for the students to “see first-hand how the CSME is being implemented and how it is working.”
“The students are here to see how Jamaica has been implementing its various commitments under the CSME, and some of the challenges that Jamaica might be experiencing,” he said.
Richards noted that many of the students were visiting Jamaica for the first time and it was his hope that the trip would engender that “spirit of Caribbeanness” and to understand that “we are all Caribbean people.”
“I hope they have had a very first-hand experience as it relates to how different actors in Jamaica feel about Caribbean regional integration and what the Government is doing to advance regional integration here in Jamaica,” he said.
University of California, Berkeley (Cal) sophomore Toni-Ann Williams will be the first female gymnast to represent Jamaica and Cal at the Olympic Games, after she qualified for the 2016 Games with a strong showing at the Rio Olympic Test Event on Sunday.
Williams, who has already created history as the first gymnast to represent Jamaica at the senior international level, has moved one step further, having now realised her dream of representing her parents’ homeland at the Olympic Games scheduled for August.
She finished 38th overall, with a 52.931 total in the all-round, which also placed her in 16th position as an individual not competing with a full team. Her highest score of the day came on vault where she scored 14.066, which ranked 24th among her competitors.
The 20-year-old was also ranked in the top 35 on beam, finishing 29th with a tally of 13.666, and 32nd on floor with 13.366. She tallied an 11.833 on bars. Justin Howell, head coach of Jamaica and Cal, was elated by the prospects of Williams being the first Cal women’s gymnastics student-athlete to qualify for the Olympics in the history of the programme.
“What an amazing accomplishment! It’s a little surreal at the moment, but we believed without a doubt that she would qualify,” Howell told Cal Athletics.
The gymnast, born in Randallstown, Maryland has been training concurrently for both international qualification and the NCAA gymnastics season.
She missed the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships to compete at the Rio Olympic Test Event, which represented her only chance to qualify.
However, she still enjoyed a standout sophomore season, picking up a pair of All-Pac-12 First Team honours, her second West Region Gymnast of the Year award and her fourth career Regular Season All-America title.
“The rigour of Cal prepares our student-athletes for excellence. It becomes their habit and their way of the life [and] this is just another shining example. This is proof that gymnastics at the college level and gymnastics at the international level can go hand in hand,” Howell noted.
Howell will be joining Williams in Rio as head coach of the Jamaican National Team.
Williams started her journey in a tiny, out-of-the-way gym hidden among the hills on the outskirts of Cal’s campus, where she enthusiastically drags a humongous mat to the balance beam area before getting to work. She also carried her own vault springboard to run through several repetitions, as she worked on enhancing her high-flying flip and acrobatic twist.
“I never realised how big that was. I never allowed myself to think that highly of myself before, but I do recognise it now. It helps me stay humble and keeps me going through this crazy journey,” Williams said last year, after discovering that she was the first gymnast to compete for Jamaica.
The police say they have arrested and charged more than 250 people under the anti-gang law since last year, but their hard work has been frustrated as none of the cases have been brought to trial due to the heavy backlog in the courts.
“Since we’ve had the anti-gang legislation, we have arrested over 253 persons. The challenge we face is that [of the] 208 persons last year and 46 this year, none of those cases have gone through the courts yet. They’re all clogged up somewhere in the court system,” lamented Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of crime Glenmore Hinds.
Hinds made the revelation at this week’s sitting of the Jamaica Observer Press Club, which hosted the constabulary’s top brass at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters in Kingston.
Hinds also stated that he was of the view that “there is no real urgency” to prioritise these cases. “One of the things that we want to see done is at least for some of these cases to go through to set the precedence, and recognise where there are shortcomings in the law. But until that happens, we won’t see how effective the law is. It’s the volume; the system cannot cope,” he insisted.
The Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Bill, popularly called the anti-gang law, came into effect in 2014 and forms part of the Government’s strategy to fight crime.
It makes provision for the disruption and suppression of criminal organisations and outlines offences, in order to restore a sense of security in the country and strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies to effectively deal with crime.
The law also seeks to prohibit people from establishing a criminal organisation; taking part in, or participating in a criminal organisation; providing or obtaining a benefit from a criminal organisation; and harbouring or concealing a participant in a criminal organisation.
Yesterday, Deputy Commissioner Hinds said that some 300 gangs, at maximum, operate islandwide, with the majority in the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s St Andrew South Division. Following closely, Hinds said, are the St Catherine North Division, which houses the country’s two main gangs – Klansman and One Order; Kingston Western Division; Kingston Eastern Division; and sections of St James.
“The number of gangs fluctuates from time to time and what causes fluctuation is that you’ll have implosions in gangs and breakaway groups or splinter groups coming out of gangs. …It fluctuates between 250 and 300, given what is happening in the larger gangs,” Hinds said.
Added to that, he said the JCF has devised, in his opinion, “one of the best counter-gang strategies” although it has not been highly publicised.
“When you look at the gangs, the kind of harm they pose, the kind of structure they have, we rank them and our approach is tiered. [For] the larger gangs, there is a strategic-level tasking of these gangs led by the DCP operations of crime with support formation, headquarters formation. And then the gangs that are ranked below that tier are focused on by the area and the area assistant commissioner [who] leads that targeting of those gangs, while divisions are allowed to look at the lower gangs. And this is how we arrange our resources to have global impact on the gangs nationally and we are seeing fair results,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams said gang-related killings have accounted for a little over 50 per cent of this year’s murders.
“Our major problem is gang murders, and so this year, up to now, we have some 312 murders. Of those, 159 were related to gangs. [While] some 65 murders were non-gang and 86 that are still under investigation,” Dr Williams said, adding that the murders stemmed from intra- and inter-gang conflicts.
He also rejected the claim that Jamaicans are killed at random.
“Contrary to a belief that I think is widely held, Jamaicans are not necessarily going to be killed randomly. I am not saying there are not some of those, but the people who are killed, the victims, I think, are chosen,” he said.
“There are lots of innocent people who are killed, but they are not random.”
Prime Minister Andrew Holness says he is thankful that, so far, there have been no reported deaths or serious injuries arising from the magnitude 6.9 earthquake which impacted Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines Wednesday morning.
Prime Minister Holness says Jamaica stands ready to provide assistance to both countries in ensuring a speedy return to normality as possible.
He said: “The catastrophic earthquakes that affected Japan and Ecuador recently, as well as this closer-to-home tremor that impacted Barbados and St Vincent, bring into sharp focus the importance of disaster preparedness. These events underscore how critical it is to have effective protocols in place to respond and coordinate relief effort in the event of an earthquake.
“Given the importance of heightening Jamaica’s preparedness, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management is being called in to update me on the country’s state of preparedness and apprise the Government of areas of need as well as the protocols governing response to a major earthquake,” Holness said.
The prime minister continued: “The Government recognises that while earthquakes are events over which no one has control, a significant difference can be made to how devastating its impact is if there is an integrated and effectively coordinated response protocol in place.
“As chairman of the National Disaster Preparedness Committee, I am engaging ODPEM to ensure that as far as possible, all the critical first responders and relief agencies are in a state of preparedness and able to function effectively in the event of a serious earthquake or similarly catastrophic event. Public education will also be an area of focus as it is important to inform citizens of steps they can take to better prepare for a catastrophic earthquake as well as the role they can play in safeguarding lives in the event there is one.”
Senator Ruel Reid, Minister of Education, Youth and Information has announced the removal of auxiliary fees in high schools effective at the start of the next academic year. He said this will be facilitated by increasing the ministry’s subvention to schools for tuition from $11,500 to $19,000.
The education minister made the disclosure during his address to graduates of the Aspiring Principals Programme at Mona Visitor’s Lodge on Wednesday.
The programme, according to the ministry, is delivered by the National College of Educational Leadership in collaboration with the University of the West Indies School of Education.
Reid explained that the resultant $2 billion increase in expenditure will be funded across two budget periods and disbursed to schools in tranches. He disclosed that the ministry was currently devising a funding formula to ensure that there is equity in the amount of subvention to each school towards tuition fees. He noted that the ministry will be consulting with principals and other stakeholders before the new subvention amount is implemented.
The funding formula aims to achieve several objectives:
1) Provide the highest level of available funding to schools that receive students with the lowest level of academic achievement on entry, and to schools where the majority of students are from the poorest socio-economic condition.
2) Through more equitable funding schools will be able to allocate the staffing and resources required to meet the needs of the students they serve.
3) The allocation of budget for a school for each academic year should reflect the student enrolment for that particular year and any changes to the school population. As the conditions/situation of students change the budget allocated for staffing in that school must change within an adequate time period.
4) However, schools will not be permitted to enroll more than the number of places permitted by the Ministry
5) Reflect the nature of the plant and site, the curriculum offer and the health and safety of students and staff.
The ministry is seeking to allocate the resources where it is most needed to get optimum results.
PRIME Minister Andrew Holness has undertaken to have the Cabinet review the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and its implications for the Jamaican Rastafari community.
Holness gave the undertaking at a Jamaica House meeting with a delegation from the Rastafari Millennium Council (RMC), who visited him Tuesday on the eve the 50th anniversary of the historic visit to Jamaica of the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie in 1966.
The 10-member team of Rastafarians, including reggae star Bunny ‘Wailer Livingstone, former Columbia Records executive Maxine Stowe, and attorney-at-law Hannah Harris Barrington, met Prime Minister Holness, and Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange inside the courtesy room at Jamaica House.
Barrington, who was born in England of Jamaican parentage, pleaded for the prime minister’s support of the RMC’s efforts to get parliamentary acknowledgement of the UN 2007 declaration and its implications for the Rastafari community in Jamaica.
Holness admitted that he admired the resistance of Rastafarians to oppression as well as their regard for human rights.
“I admire and indeed support the move to seek to clothe this in some kind of legal framework, to protect the rights of our people. I will take a very close look at what you have presented here in seeking ratification of the UN declaration, and will have the government move as quickly as possible on it, providing that there are no unseen obstacles,” the prime minister told the group.
In response to pleas from Stowe for greater protection for the use of Jamaica’s ganja as an international product, and to ensure greater flow of benefits from Jamaican music from the international record companies, Holness confirmed that the new Administration has been looking at the issue of legalisation of ganja, and the use of the drug locally and how the country can fully exploit its benefits.
“We have set up a sub-committee (of the Cabinet) to take a very close and detailed look at the present legislation, which actually promises more than it delivers,” Holness said.
He stated that a lot of people were under the impression that the legislation delivers free use and trade of the drug, but that was not the case.
“Indeed, it does not necessarily address the potential for the exploitation of the people who for years have suffered under the old regime and probably will not benefit. So, we are very sensitive to that and that committee is being chaired by Minister (Mike) Henry,” he informed the delegation.