Amnesty: Jamaica must probe human rights abuses

Amnesty International on Monday urged Jamaica's government to seriously investigate human rights abuses allegedly committed during last year's bloody operation to catch a reputed underworld boss.

The London-based human rights group asserted that no one has been punished despite many claims of unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests by security forces.

Neither the police nor the government had any immediate comment on the report released by Amnesty on the one-year anniversary of the launch of raids seeking to arrest Christopher "Dudus" Coke and re-establish order in his barricaded slum stronghold. The operation, one of the bloodiest episodes in Jamaica's recent history, killed at least 73 civilians.

More than 40 of those who died in Coke's former Tivoli Gardens community in West Kingston during the state of emergency are alleged to have been victims of "extrajudicial" killings by security forces, Amnesty said.

Unlawful killings were reported elsewhere during the weekslong state of emergency and roughly 4,000 Jamaicans were detained, most without charge, under emergency powers. Two people who slumdwellers assert were last seen in the custody of security forces remain unaccounted for.

Amnesty said that despite some "positive steps" undertaken by Jamaican authorities, investigations have never provided conclusive answers about what happened during the operation. It noted that alleged crime scenes were left unprotected for days and decomposing bodies were buried quickly by authorities in a cemetery near Tivoli Gardens.

Chiara Liguori, Amnesty's researcher on Jamaica, called for an independent inquiry commission to be established "in order to ensure that all human rights violations committed in Tivoli last year do not go unpunished like so many others in Jamaica."

"The lack of effective investigations for human rights crimes is nothing new in Jamaica," Liguori said in a statement. "The reality is that for far too long, inner-city communities have been trapped between drug gangs and a state that ignores them."

According to Amnesty, more than 2,220 fatal shootings by police were reported from 2000 to 2010 in Jamaica, but only two police officers were convicted for involvement in wrongful killings. Activists have long asserted that the Caribbean island's police routinely kill suspects in what are officially described as shootouts.

Jamaica's public defender, Earl Witter, and a local rights group have long called for a full public inquiry into the raids during the hunt for Coke, who was sought by the U.S. on drug- and gunrunning charges.

Coke, who provided social services and a lawless sort of order in the Tivoli Gardens, is now jailed in New York and has pleaded not guilty.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding's government has tried to ease the shock of the raids by offering counseling to traumatized youngsters and it has compensated some West Kingston residents whose homes were badly damaged in the assault on Coke's stronghold.

Yet there is little progress at answering the complaints that police themselves broke the law. A dearth of ballistics experts and forensic science equipment has created lengthy backlogs into crime investigations in Jamaica.

People living in impoverished Tivoli Gardens and a patchwork of West Kingston slums say they want answers from the government, but don't expect them.

"They don't want the truth to come out because my 'pickney' and others were killed in cold blood," Paulette Wellington said, using Jamaican slang for a child.

She alleges her 29-year-old son, Sheldon Gary Davis, was killed by the security forces last May 30 after being taken into custody in the slum of Denham Town.

"Everyday I cry," she said.