KINGSTON, Jamaica, Friday May 25, 2012 – On the second anniversary of a bloody military operation in West Kingston that claimed the lives of some 70 civilians and two members of the armed forces, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International is pushing for an inquiry.
The violent upheaval unfolded when security forces clashed with individuals loyal to then-fugitive Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke who were attempting to block his arrest.
Now, two years after the deadly clash, Amnesty is backing calls by the public defender and other civil society groups for government to get the inquiry underway.
“As Jamaica commemorates the second anniversary of the proclamation of the state of emergency, it is time for the Government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to appoint an independent commission of inquiry with a broad mandate and powers. This will be a decisive step to ensure that investigations into the allegations of human rights violations during the 2010 State of Emergency are completed and that these investigations result in justice and remedy,” Amnesty stated in a press release.
The human rights watchdog cited the case of Paulette Wellington, mother of Sheldon Gary Davis, who was allegedly killed by security forces during the first week of the State of Emergency after reportedly being arrested at his home on May 30, 2010 in Denham Town, West Kingston.
Four days later, after searching frantically for him, Wellington received confirmation that he was dead. A policeman told her that another officer shot him when he tried to take a soldier’s gun.
According to Amnesty, however, other men who were in custody with Davis said they saw a police officer put him under a mango tree and shoot him.
Wellington and others with relatives who died in the incident are still waiting for justice and a chance to find out how their loved ones died, Amnesty said.
“Two years have passed since the two-month-long state of emergency was declared, during which time several other people like Sheldon Gary Davis were suspected of having been unlawfully killed by the security forces and hundreds of others are believed to have been unlawfully arrested,” the release said.
The human rights watchdog also drew attention to an interim report from Public Defender Earl Witter, based on 1,000 civilian complaints about the conduct of the security forces during the State of Emergency, which is to be presented to Parliament. The report is expected to outline the initial findings and what Government support is required to conclude the investigations.
Amnesty indicated that the delay in publishing this report was because of the government’s forensic inadequacies.
“Shortcomings in the forensic services are one of the reasons for the long delay in the investigations. In particular, the resources available at the ballistics laboratory were deemed to be inadequate to deal with such a high number of cases, especially given that the laboratory already had a backlog of 2,000 requests in October 2010 for cases prior to the state of emergency,” said the group.
Among the many families awaiting answers about the circumstances of their relatives’ deaths during the state of emergency is that of businessman Keith Clarke, who was killed at his upper St Andrew home by a special joint forces team during the manhunt in May 2010.
But, according to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewelyn, her office had not been able to rule on the case.
In a release, Llewelyn said that she had appointed a team, comprising two deputy directors and two Crown Counsel, to review the huge file on the investigations into the killing which sent shockwaves through the country.
But despite its voluminous nature, the file lacked critical information.
“Having considered all the statements and other material on the file, it was discovered that there is need for further and better particulars touching and concerning an important aspect of this matter that is still to be furnished by the investigators. Having consulted with my team, I am therefore of the view that a ruling cannot be rendered at this time,” the DPP stated.
Llewelyn said her office wrote to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) on May 9, 2012 requesting that this outstanding material be furnished as soon as possible so that she can complete the review and render a ruling in the matter.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has again expressed alarm at the number of extrajudicial killings in the country.
“The number of people killed weekly by police officers in dubious circumstances in Jamaica continues to be unacceptably high. In the first six days of March 2012, the killing of 21 people by police officers spiked a wave of criticism against the way the police conduct its operations in marginalised inner-city areas,” the human rights advocate group declared.