United States roasts Caribbean human rights practices

Nelson A. King

WASHINGTON D.C., United States, Tuesday April 30, 2013 – There’s seemingly no let up in the United States’ condemnation of Caribbean countries in their human rights practices. 

In its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012,” the US Department of State takes a critical look at the region’s prison conditions, judicial system and overall governance, among others.

For example, it says in Haiti, the most serious impediments to human rights involved “weak democratic governance in the country; the near absence of the rule of law, exacerbated by a judicial system vulnerable to political influence; and chronic, severe corruption in all branches of government.”

Washington also said: “some arbitrary and unlawful killings by government officials; excessive use of force against suspects and protesters; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons” also contributed to human rights violations in the French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.

The report says allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by members of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Haiti (MINUSTAH), continue pointing to “violence and crime within camps for about 369,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Although the government took some steps to prosecute or punish some government and law enforcement officials who committed abuses, credible reports persisted of officials engaging in corrupt practices with impunity.”

In Guyana, the State Department says the most serious human rights abuses involved suspects’ and detainees’ complaints of mistreatment by security forces, unlawful killings by police, and poor prison and jail conditions.

Washington said there were no independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of killings and other abuses by security force members and that prosecutions, when pursued, were extremely lengthy, and convictions were rare, “leading to a widespread perception that security force members enjoyed impunity.”

Prison and jail conditions were “poor and deteriorating, particularly in police holding cells,” and overcrowding was a “severe problem.”

The Guyana Prison Service (GPS) reported that, as of October 2011, the latest data available, there were 1,962 prisoners in five facilities, which had a combined design capacity of 1,580.

The report notes that inadequate training, poor equipment, and acute budgetary constraints severely limited the Guyana Police Force’s (GPF), effectiveness, referring to the Caribbean Development Report commissioned by the UN Development Programme that found public confidence in the police force was very low. 

In addition, the State Department says there were reports of corruption in the police force, noting that, in 2011, authorities charged and brought to court 39 GPF members for various crimes, including robbery, simple larceny, bribery, and indecent assault. 

For Belize, the report says the most important human rights abuses during the year were the use of excessive force by security forces, including the deaths of five persons involving on or off- duty police officers and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Other human rights problems included lengthy pretrial detention, domestic violence, discrimination against women, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons and child labor.

The report says, in some cases, the government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but it says successful prosecutions “generally were limited in number and tended to involve less severe infractions.”

It says there was apparent impunity for high-ranking officials, but authorities took action against 51 police officers and brought criminal charges against 48 of them for alleged abuses.

The most serious human rights problems in Jamaica, according to the US State Department were alleged unlawful security force killings; cases involving the violation of rights that were not resolved in a timely way; poor prison and jail conditions, including abuse of detainees and prisoners; and incarceration of children with adults.

Other human rights problems included an “overburdened and ineffective judicial system and frequent lengthy delays in trials, violence against and sexual abuse of children, violence and discrimination against women, trafficking in persons, violence against persons based on their suspected sexual orientation, and vigilante justice meted out by violent mobs.”

Washington said  the government took steps to investigate and punish members of the security forces who committed abuses, “but in many instances a lack of witnesses and insufficient forensics equipment precluded arrests or prosecutions, thus providing the appearance of impunity for police who committed crimes”.

It said the most serious human rights problems in Suriname were overcrowded detention facilities, lengthy pretrial detention, and governmental corruption.

Other human rights problems included self-censorship by some media organizations and journalists; societal discrimination against women, Maroons, Amerindians, and other minorities; domestic violence against women; trafficking in persons; and child labor in the informal sector.

The report says while general prisons were clean and well maintained, and the staff were professional and maintained proper relationships with prisoners, conditions were poor in the many small temporary detention facilities, “which tended to be unhygienic and overcrowded.”

The report says prisoners who appealed their cases often served their full sentences before completion of the lengthy appeals process.

“The judiciary lacked professional court managers and case management systems to oversee the courts’ administrative functions and also lacked adequate physical space – factors that contributed to a significant case backlog,” it added. 

In Trinidad and Tobago, the State Department says the most serious human rights problems were police killings during apprehension or in custody and poor treatment of suspects, detainees, and prisoners.

Other human rights problems involved inmate illnesses and injuries due to poor prison conditions, high-profile cases of alleged bribery, violence and discrimination against women, inadequate services for vulnerable children, and unsafe working conditions.

The report notes that 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 slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings in general.”

Poor prison conditions were identified as the most serious human rights abuse in Antigua and Barbuda, even as Washington made reference to trial delays resulting from court backlogs and discrimination and violence against women; members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community; and persons with HIV/AIDS. There were reports of mental, physical, and sexual abuse of children.

The report says that the country’s only prison was “seriously overcrowded and had inadequate toilet facilities”.

Washington said the prison overcrowding was attributed in part to a law that limits the ability of magistrates to grant bail to those accused of certain offenses, resulting in an increase in the number of persons held on remand or awaiting trial.

The report says that fires in 2010 and 2011 worsened the already poor conditions, and that poor ventilation caused cell temperatures to remain very high.

The State Department said complaints of abuse by police and a poorly functioning judicial system, leading to delays in trials, lengthy pretrial detention, and witness intimidation were the most serious human rights problems in the Bahamas. 

It said that while other human rights problems included poor detention conditions; corruption; violence and discrimination against women, the government took action against police officers accused of abuse of power, and there was not a widespread perception of impunity. 

The report says that although the constitution prohibits such practices, citizens and visitors made numerous reports alleging instances of police abuse of criminal suspects.

It says that prison and detention center conditions generally failed to meet international standards, and conditions at the country’s only prison “remained harsh and unsanitary for many prisoners.” 

The occasional use of excessive force by the police in Barbados was highlighted as that CARICOM island’s most serious human rights problem even though there had been reports of societal violence against women and children, child abuse, and discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

The report makes mention of the ongoing case by Jamaican national, Shanique Myrie, against the Barbados government after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by a female immigration officer who detained her upon arrival at the airport. 

The US State Department report says domestic violence against women and children was the most serious human rights problem in Dominica, adding that other human rights problems included adverse conditions experienced by the indigenous Kalinago (Carib) population and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation. 

The report says that sexual violence and domestic violence cases were common, adding that the Roosevelt Skerrit government recognized it as a problem.

It said the authorities received reports of 19 rapes, the same as 2011, 33 indecent assaults, compared with 44 in 2011, 38 cases of unlawful sexual intercourse, compared with 44 in 2011, and 43 cases of grievous bodily harm, compared with 75 in 2011). No information was available about prosecutions or convictions. 

“Survivors of sexual and domestic violence were sometimes reluctant to speak out due to fear of retribution, stigma, or further violence, which suggested that the problem may be significantly underreported,” the report says. “Child abuse continued to be a pervasive problem,” it adds. 

Grenada’s human rights problems included allegations of corruption, poor prison conditions, violence against women, and instances of child abuse.

The report says that while the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, “the government did not implement the law effectively.”

It says that a senior member of the ruling party was dismissed from his role as government advisor after being accused of doctoring a document, and that the government dismissed a minister after he provided a letter of assurance on behalf of a prospective investor that did not reflect government policy. 

The State Department says that prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards, and overcrowding was a serious problem.

Long delays in investigating reports of unlawful police killings, abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police were highlighted among the various human rights abuses in St Lucia.

The State Department said although the government took some steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses, the procedure for investigating police officers was “lengthy, cumbersome, and often inconclusive.”

“When the rare cases reached trial years later, juries often acquitted, leaving an appearance of de facto impunity,” it says. 

Poor prison conditions, discrimination and violence against women and child abuse St Kitts and Nevis were the most serious human rights problems in St. Kitts and Nevis, the report says. 

Other human rights problems included discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

“The government took steps to prosecute and convict officials who committed abuses, but some cases remained unresolved,” the report says. “There was not a widespread perception of impunity for security force members.” 

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the State Department says the most serious human rights problems were domestic violence, sexual violence against women and girls, and occasional police use of excessive force.

Other human rights problems included “official corruption, lack of government transparency, discrimination, trafficking in persons, and child abuse.

“The government took steps to punish officials who committed abuses, and there was not a widespread perception of impunity for security force members,” Washington reported.(CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)