Human Rights News

Jamaica: Reject Call to Prosecute Rights Defenders

Government Should Address Police Violence, Homophobia and HIV/AIDS Crisis

(New York, November 30, 2004) — Jamaican authorities should reject a police demand to press criminal charges against local human rights defenders who have criticized police abuses against gay men and people living with HIV/AIDS, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Jamaican prime minister.

" It’s outrageous that the Jamaican police, who should be defending people’s rights, are instead calling for their rights to be violated. The authorities may be unhappy that their tolerance of homophobic violence has been exposed, but they should address the problem rather than shoot the messenger. "
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
  
In a letter published on November 25 in the Jamaica Observer, a spokesman for the Jamaica Police Federation, which represents the country’s police officers, denounced human rights groups for criticizing abuses against gay men and people living with HIV/AIDS. The letter accused Human Rights Watch “and its local accomplices [of] deliberately maligning the police and the state.” It also demanded that the minister of justice “slap on sedition charges where necessary to both foreign and local agents of provocation.”  
 
“It’s outrageous that the Jamaican police, who should be defending people’s rights, are instead calling for their rights to be violated,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The authorities may be unhappy that their tolerance of homophobic violence has been exposed, but they should address the problem rather than shoot the messenger.”  
 
The attack by the Jamaica Police Federation followed 10 days of public debate about a Human Rights Watch report released in Kingston on November 16. The report, “Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic,” documented widespread discrimination and abuse by police and health workers, especially against gay men and people living with HIV/AIDS. The report called for the repeal of Jamaica’s sodomy laws criminalizing consensual homosexual conduct.  
 
Five Jamaican human rights organizations — Families Against State Terrorism, the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights, Jamaica AIDS Support, Jamaicans for Justice, and Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays — all joined Human Rights in the launch of the report. The report led to furious denials by Jamaican government officials, who claimed that police abuse doesn’t take place. Officials also defended Jamaica’s sodomy laws, Victorian-era legislation introduced by Britain when it was the colonial power, as basic to the country’s sovereignty and culture. However, Jamaica is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  
In an open letter to Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, Human Rights Watch responded in detail to criticism by Jamaica’s commissioner of police and by the head of the National AIDS Program. The Jamaican police should investigate allegations of homophobic abuse submitted to it months before, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch also reiterated serious concerns about the ministry of health’s failure to address discrimination and abuse by healthcare workers, as well as its refusal to ensure objective independent mechanisms for complaints.  
 
“Jamaica’s crisis of violence is contributing to its HIV/AIDS crisis,” said Roth. “It’s time for the government to address the HIV/AIDS emergency partly fueled by its promotion of homophobia and hatred.”  
 
Human Rights Watch renewed its call for prompt, independent investigation into allegations of excessive force and other human rights abuses by law enforcement officials, including against people targeted because of their sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS status. In addition, the Jamaican government should establish independent oversight and complaint mechanisms in the healthcare system to address discrimination and ensure protection of confidential and private information.