Amnesty urges probe of Jamaica street killings

MIAMI, Reuters

Amnesty International urged Jamaica on Thursday to fully investigate the killing of 25 people in three days of politically tinged gunbattles in the capital earlier this week, including allegations that police and soldiers fired indiscriminately at unarmed civilians.

The London-based human rights group also urged Jamaican political leaders to “make clear to their supporters and every other citizen that violence against their political opponents or the security forces is not acceptable.”

Gunfights broke out early on Saturday when police conducted a weapons raid in the blighted Tivoli Gardens neighborhood, a stronghold for the opposition Jamaica Labor Party.

Government officials with the ruling People’s National Party said police responded to gunfire and firebombs from “criminal elements.” But opposition politicians accused the security forces of shooting bystanders and fomenting unrest for political reasons ahead of next year’s general election, charges the government denied.

“These killings must be adequately investigated and political leaders and their followers must fully cooperate with all such investigations,” Amnesty International said.

Four members of the security forces were among the dead, and Amnesty acknowledged “the difficulties and dangers faced by those responsible for the policing of areas controlled by armed individuals.”

It said that even under lethal conditions, police should use and soldiers must use the minimum force necessary to protect themselves and those around them and act “in a manner consistent with human rights protection.”

“Human rights abuses committed by the security forces can only cause the situation to deteriorate and will undermine confidence in their ability to maintain peace and order and to protect the population,” Amnesty International said.

While the gunbattles had ended and some businesses re-opened in west Kingston, the army remained on patrol on Thursday and tension and anger ran high.

Jamaica has a history of political violence dating back to the ’70s with the formation of armed gangs with political loyalties. The rights group said it feared the violence could flare up regularly ahead of elections due in late 2002.

“If such widespread violence, death and destruction are brought into the forthcoming elections, no matter which party wins, all of Jamaica will lose,” Amnesty said.