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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Jamaica acts over police abuse
By Laurence Peter
BBC News Online

Jamaican riot policeman in Kingston, April 1999
Jamaican police stand accused of heavy-handed tactics

Jamaica is disbanding a paramilitary police unit which was involved in a series of controversial killings.

The move has been welcomed as "a hugely significant, brave step" by the human rights organisation Amnesty International.

The head of the Crime Management Unit (CMU), Superintendent Reneto Adams, has been transferred to an administrative job in the police mobile reserve.

His tough-guy image - including black combat gear and dark glasses - earned him the nickname "Saddam".

The unit was sharply criticised after two men and two women were shot and killed by officers on 7 May in Crawle, a rural town 64 kilometres (40 miles) from the capital Kingston.

The killings are being investigated by officers from the UK's Scotland Yard and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

'Executions'

According to Amnesty International, the case "bears all the hallmarks of extra-judicial executions". Numerous witnesses disputed the police version of a "shoot-out".

The processes are so poor that we cannot be sure at the end whether it was a lawful shooting or not
Carolyn Gomes
Jamaicans For Justice

Amnesty's Caribbean researcher Piers Bannister told BBC News Online that it was very similar to the controversial killing of seven young men by the paramilitary unit in March 2001, during a raid on a house in Braeton, Kingston.

Local residents said the men had begged for their lives before being "executed" one by one.

And a pathologist quoted by Amnesty said six of the victims had received multiple gunshot wounds - some at close range.

"We want trials of officers, not just their removal from the frontline," Mr Bannister said.

Jamaica has not convicted any police officers for unlawful killing since October 1999, but since then there have been numerous suspicious killings, he says.

Carolyn Gomes, executive director of the citizens' rights group Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ), welcomed the paramilitary unit's disappearance as "a move in the right direction, but not the whole move".

She condemned Mr Adams' style of policing as "archaic and hurtful to the building of trust between police and communities".

She told BBC News Online that JFJ had been "calling for his removal for years".

"The war on the drugs gangs is complex and cannot be solved by throwing tons of munitions at it," she said.

"It requires undercover intelligence, patience, a new way of penetrating the gangs, getting not only at the foot soldiers but the leadership, in a co-ordinated fashion."

High murder rate

Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Last year, 1,045 people were killed on the island of 2.6 million, down from 1,132 in 2001.

According to Amnesty, 133 people died in police killings last year and 56 this year. The police toll is 16 officers killed last year, five this year.

The CMU was set up by Prime Minister PJ Patterson in September 2000 with a mandate to crack down on violent drugs gangs, extortionists and carjackers.

Amnesty's Piers Bannister condemns the Jamaican police's "lack of accountability".

"Previously officers abused human rights in the confidence that they would not be brought before a court," he told BBC News Online.

The Jamaican courts "procrastinate in the extreme... the trail goes cold and witnesses forget," he said.

Room for improvement

The decision to scrap the CMU is seen as a sign that the adverse criticism has stung the Jamaican Government and that it wants people to have faith in crime investigations.

Amnesty would like to see the Jamaican police embrace community policing and improve its planning of operations where firearms might be used.

And Carolyn Gomes called for "a proper investigative mechanism that is transparent and accountable, so that the truth comes out".

"We live in a violent society and there will be times when the police act within the law when they shoot. But the situation now doesn't allow citizens to feel they have got justice," the JFJ executive director said.


SEE ALSO:
Jamaican link to UK crime
16 Jan 03  |  UK News
Swabs tackle Jamaica drug mules
21 Nov 02  |  UK News
Calming Jamaica's bloody elections
19 Oct 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Jamaica: The new Wild West
10 Aug 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Jamaica
23 May 03  |  Country profiles


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