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Concern over Jamaica’s human rights record

Jamaica Observer

Concern over Jamaica’s human rights record

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DESPITE JAMAICA’S INSISTENCE that its laws already provide adequate human rights protection for all citizens, several countries, including some major trading partners, appeared disappointed that it has not taken on recommendations regarding gay rights, police violence, child labour, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.

Jamaica’s minister of justice, Senator Mark Golding, who led the country’s delegation to the 22nd session of the United Nations’ working group’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record, pointed to “a long and cherished history of promoting and protecting human rights”, during his address to the committee on May 15.

Senator Golding told UN member states that Jamaica’s Constitution of 1962 “guarantees the protection of the human rights of all Jamaicans”.

He noted that those rights “have been further addressed through the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms”, which replaced Chapter Three of the Constitution in 2011, covering fundamental rights and freedoms including protection from discrimination.

Golding, in a statement to the Senate on Friday, said that while Jamaica was prepared to accept more than half of the recommendations from members, it had a difficulty accepting others, including repeated calls to repeal buggery legislation, acknowledge same-sex marriages, and introduce additional legislation to protect the rights of the LGBT community.

The minister instead gave the assurance of protection available under the constitution and current laws, and assured the member states he would maintain open communication with the LGBT community “to identify and find ways of addressing the main concerns”.

However, Golding’s response obviously did not satisfy a number of Jamaica’s friends at the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

The US, for example, recommended that Jamaica “decriminalise consensual same-sex conduct between adults”.

The UK recommended the “introduction and implementation of fully comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to include sexual orientation and gender”.

Canada, however, appeared less demanding, suggesting effective measures “to investigate and prosecute all incidents and acts of violence targeting individuals based on sexual orientation”.

It was Sweden, however, which seemed most disturbed by Jamaica’s responses on the gay rights issue.

According to Swedish Minister-Counsellor Josefin Simonsson Broden: “Despite the fact that more LGBT people are reporting acts of violence and discrimination to the police (in Jamaica), many incidents still go unreported.

“Sweden recommends the Government of Jamaica to repeal the legal provisions making same-sex intimacy among men – described as ‘gross indecency and buggery’ – illegal,” he said.

Incidentally, Australia was content to acknowledge the current review of the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, and the Child Care and Protection Act, which is being undertaken by a joint select committee of both Houses of Parliament, and chaired by Senator Golding, and was willing to await the outcome.

However, Australia had some strong words on the level of police killings in Jamaica, although welcoming the establishment of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) in 2011 to investigate these killings.

“Australia recommends Jamaica give INDECOM the power it needs to investigate criminal acts committed by the police,” said the Australian mission to the UN.

Canada suggested strengthening INDECOM, in line with international standards, by amending the Coroner’s Act to include the commission as an interested party to an inquiry into a death, and reforming the INDECOM Act to settle challenges from the police to its jurisdiction and mandate.

The US also had a recommendation for the Jamaican Government regarding “excessive or unlawful use of force” by both the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force. Its representatives suggested intensified efforts to investigate those allegations, as well as to ensure prosecution where appropriate.

The US also made a third recommendation, which was to identify and protect children employed in “the worst forms of child labour”, and increase assistance to victims of forced labour and sex trafficking.

The UK also called for the immediate elimination of the practice of “incarcerating juvenile offenders alongside adults”.

And Canada recommended that Jamaica amend its regulations regarding the arrest and detention of civilians by the police, “so that they clearly define the rights of detainees, strengthen judicial oversight of arrests, and provide specific remedies for breach of duty”. (Jamaica Observer)