Nelson A. King
WASHINGTON D.C., United States, Monday March 3, 2014, CMC – While noting that governments that protect human rights and are accountable to their citizens are more secure, bolster international peace and security, and enjoy shared prosperity with stable democratic countries around the world, the United States continues to assail human rights practices in the Caribbean.
In its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013,” released here earlier this week, Washington was particularly scathing in its criticism of Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bahamas.
The US Department of State said the most serious impediments to human rights in Haiti involved weak democratic governance in the earthquake-ravaged, French-speaking Caribbean country; “insufficient respect for the rule of law, exacerbated by a deficient judicial system; and chronic corruption in all branches of government.”
It said basic human rights problems included “isolated allegations of arbitrary and unlawful killings by government officials; allegations of use of force against suspects and protesters; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; prolonged pre-trial detention; an inefficient, unreliable, and inconsistent judiciary; rape, other violence, and societal discrimination against women; child abuse; allegations of social marginalization of vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons; and trafficking in persons.”
The report also said that allegations “persisted of sexual exploitation and abuse by members of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Haiti (MINUSTAH).”
In addition, it said violence, crime and forced evictions within the remaining internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Haiti, which contained about 172,000 IDPs as of November, “remained a problem.”
Although the Michel Martelly administration took some steps to prosecute or punish government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses, the State Department said “credible reports persisted of officials engaging in corrupt practices,” and that civil society groups allege that impunity was a problem.
The report said there were isolated allegations of police and other government officials’ involvement in arbitrary or unlawful killings, some of which resulted in arrests. However, none resulted in convictions, it said.
Washington said prisoners at times were subject to “degrading treatment, in large part due to overcrowded facilities”, adding that correction officers used physical punishment and psychological abuse to mistreat prisoners.
The State Department said prisons and detention centres throughout Haiti remained overcrowded, poorly maintained and unsanitary.
In Jamaica, the most serious human rights issues were alleged unlawful security force killings; cases involving the violation of rights that were not resolved in a timely way; and poor prison and jail conditions, including abuse of detainees and prisoners and severe overcrowding.
The report said other human rights issues included an “overburdened, under resourced, 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 or gender identity, and mob violence.
“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.
“While the government or its agents did not commit politically motivated killings, there were numerous occurrences where citizens accused the government’s security forces or its agents of committing arbitrary or unlawful killings,” the State Department said.
The report said there were 211 killings involving Jamaican police through October, and that six police officers also were killed in the line of duty during that time.
It said human rights monitors indicated that some killings by police went unreported, with police allegedly meting out the justice they believed was unavailable through the judicial system.
The State Department said violent crime remained a “serious concern” in Jamaica, adding that, on many occasions, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) “employed lethal force in apprehending criminal suspects”.
Prisons and detention centres were also “severely overcrowded and presented serious threats to life and health,” the report said.
In Guyana, it said 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.
Other human rights problems included lengthy pre-trial detention; allegations of government corruption, including among police officials; excessive government influence over the content of the national television network and continued restrictions on radio licensing; sexual and domestic violence against women; abuse of minors; and laws that discriminate against LGBT persons.
The report said there were no independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of killings and other abuses by security force members.
“Prosecutions when pursued were extremely lengthy, and convictions were rare, leading to a widespread perception that security force members and government officials enjoyed impunity,” it said.
The State Department said there were alleged mistreatment of inmates by prison officials, as well as allegations of police abuse of suspects and detainees.
It said prison and jail conditions were “poor and deteriorating, particularly in police holding cells,” and that overcrowding was a “severe problem”.
The report said lengthy pre-trial detention, “due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures, remained a problem,” adding that “delays and inefficiencies undermined judicial due process.”
While the law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the State Department said the Guyana government did not implement the law effectively.
“There remained a widespread public perception of corruption involving officials at all levels, including the police and the judiciary,” it said, pointing to the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators that assessed that government corruption was “a serious problem”.
The most serious human rights problems in Suriname, according to the State Department, were “widespread government corruption, reports of press intimidation, and lengthy pre-trial detention”.
Other human rights problems, it said, included self-censorship by some media organizations and journalists; societal discrimination against women, Maroons, descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the interior of the country to avoid recapture, Amerindians, and other minorities; domestic violence against women; trafficking in persons; and child labour in the informal sector.
The report said while the government continued to take steps to prosecute abusers in the security forces, in certain cases, “there was a perception of impunity among the public”.
It said human rights groups, defence attorneys and the media continued to report various instances of mistreatment by police including unnecessary use of gun violence at time of arrest and beatings while in detention, as well as isolated incidents of abuse of prisoners by prison officials.
The report said prisoners continued to express concern over conditions in Santo Boma Prison, where they complained of inadequate food provisions, mistreatment by prison guards, and limited ventilation.?
The State Department identified police killings during apprehension or while in custody, and poor treatment of suspects, detainees and prisoners as the most serious human rights problems in Trinidad and Tobago.
It said other human rights problems involved inmate illnesses and injuries due to poor prison conditions, a slow judicial system, high-profile cases of alleged bribery, violence and discrimination against women, and inadequate services for vulnerable children.
The report noted that, while the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration took some steps to punish security force members and other officials charged with killings or other abuse, “there continued to be a perception of impunity based on the open-ended nature of many investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings”.
It said the People’s Partnership government or its agents did not commit any politically-motivated killings; but, according to official figures, police shot and killed 21 persons through November 1, compared with 21 in all of 2012.
The State Department said there were “credible reports” that police officers and prison guards mistreated individuals under arrest or in detention, stating that, from 2005 through 2012, “the government paid or was found liable to pay more than 10 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents) in compensation to prisoners on claims of excessive use of force by prison officers”.
The report said conditions in some of the prison system’s eight facilities continued to be harsh.
Police abuse, detainee abuse, compounded by problems in processing them, a poorly functioning judicial system leading to delays in trial, and witness intimidation, were the most serious human rights problems in the Bahamas, according to the report.
It said other human rights problems included poor detention conditions; corruption; violence and discrimination against women; sexual abuse of children; and discrimination based on ethnic descent, sexual orientation, or HIV status.
The State Department said prison and detention centre conditions “generally failed to meet international standards,” noting that conditions at the Fox Hill Prison, the country’s only prison, “remained harsh and unsanitary for many prisoners”.
The report said Bahamian authorities detained irregular immigrants, primarily Haitians, until arrangements could be made for them to leave the country or they obtained legal status.
It said the average length of detention varied significantly by nationality, willingness of governments to accept their nationals back in a timely manner, and availability of funds to pay for repatriation.
The report said authorities usually repatriated Haitians within one to two weeks, while they held Cubans for much longer periods.
It said the Bahamian government has “not effectively implemented laws and policies to provide certain habitual residents the opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner and on a non-discriminatory basis,” adding that some commentators believed that these restrictions particularly targeted Haitians resident in the country.
In an immediate response, Nassau said that the report was now being reviewed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“From what has been seen so far, there is no need for any alarm or undue concern. In a free and open society like ours, anyone is free to comment and investigate the human rights record of our country and we do not fear such an examination,” the government said in a statement.
It said it would “take note of any errors or overreaches in the report and it will have to be determined to what extent we address those issues”.
In St Lucia, the State Department said the most serious human rights problems included long delays in investigating reports of unlawful police killings, abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, and continued postponements of trials and sentencing.
Other human rights problems included violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination against persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“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,” the State Department said.
“When the rare cases reached trial years later, juries often acquitted, leaving an appearance of de facto impunity,” it added.
The State Department said the Dean Barrow administration in Belize “failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces,” stating that security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses.
It said the most important human rights abuses included the use of excessive force by security forces, lengthy pre-trial detention, and harassment and threats based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Other human rights problems comprised domestic violence, discrimination against women, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, and child labour.
In Antigua and Barbuda, the State Department said the most serious human rights problems involved poor prison conditions and violence against women.
Other human rights problems included trial delays resulting from court backlogs and reports of mental, physical, and sexual abuse of children. There were also laws that discriminate against LGBT persons.
The report said the Baldwin Spencer administration took steps to prosecute and punish those who committed human rights abuses, and that impunity was not a widespread problem.
Poor prison conditions, politicization of the police force, discrimination and violence against women, and child abuse topped the list for human rights abuses in St. Kitts and Nevis, according to the report.
Discrimination against the LGBT community was the other human rights problem, it claimed.
Occasional police use of excessive force and gender- based violence were the most serious human rights problems in St Vincent and the Grenadines, according to the State Department.
It said other human rights problems included official corruption, lack of government transparency, discrimination, 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,” the report said.
The most serious human rights problems in Barbados were “unprofessional conduct” by police, violence against women, and discrimination against LGBT individuals, according to the report, adding that other human rights problems included child abuse.
The State Department said domestic violence against women and children were the most serious human rights problem in Dominica.
It said other human rights problems included adverse conditions experienced by the indigenous Kalinago (Carib) population and laws that discriminate against LGBT persons.
Human rights problems in Grenada included poor prison conditions, violence against women, instances of child abuse, and laws that discriminate against LGBT persons, the report said. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)