KINGSTON, Jamaica – Amnesty International urged Jamaica's government Tuesday to appoint an independent fact-finding panel to investigate human rights violations allegedly committed during a bloody state of emergency to catch gang boss Christopher "Dudus" Coke.
The London-based rights group complained that "two years have passed with no answers" since the May 2010 emergency was declared and security forces launched an offensive to capture the fugitive leader of the Shower Posse, a notorious Jamaican gang named for its members' tendency to spray victims with bullets.
Amnesty said an independent inquiry commission with a broad mandate and powers offers "the best way to shed light on the overall scale of the alleged human rights violations."
"It is now time for the government to take effective measures to prevent such violations being repeated," the group said.
The hunt for Coke killed at least 73 civilians in his West Kingston stronghold in the Tivoli Gardens slum, a politicized "garrison" community that has long been a bastion of support for the Jamaica Labor Party. Days before the fighting broke out, gangsters from across the island traveled to the barricaded neighborhood in a show of support for Coke.
The security offensive led to one of the bloodiest episodes in Jamaica's recent history. Details of the operation remain murky but there have been numerous claims of unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests by security forces. Even the death toll is disputed. Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who built the Tivoli Gardens housing complex in the 1960s and is still revered as a patron by residents, has estimated that as many as 150 were killed.
An investigation by Public Defender Earl Witter into more than 1,000 complaints about rights violations by security forces during the state of emergency is still pending.
Witter and civic groups have repeatedly called for Jamaica to form a fact-finding commission but successive governments have declined to do so.
The government that was in power at the time of the crisis, led by the now opposition Jamaica Labor Party, said it could only decide whether to establish a commission of inquiry once it received the public defender's findings.
A spokeswoman for the People's National Party-led administration, which has been in power since January and enjoys a 2-to-1 margin in parliament, said officials are also waiting for Witter's report before making any decision.
"We are mindful of concerns and we can only imagine the pain of the families and friends of those affected," said Information Minister Sandrea Falconer.
Coke is awaiting sentencing in New York. He pleaded guilty last year to racketeering and assault charges. Federal prosecutors are trying to persuade a judge to give him the maximum penalty of 23 years in prison.
Leighton "Livity" Coke, the gang leader's brother, was recently freed on gun charges stemming from the Tivoli Gardens raid. He was greeted by dozens of cheering supporters as he walked out of a Kingston court earlier this month.
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