N° 55/10



Washington, May 27, 2010 — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern about the wave of violence that Jamaica has been experiencing since May 23, 2010.


According to the information the Commission has received, more than 40 persons have died and more than 30 have been injured in Kingston as a result of violent confrontations between the police and civilians, and more than 200 persons have been detained. According to the information available, this wave of violence is reportedly linked to the fight against organized crime and specifically to the actions taken by the government to arrest Christopher Coke based on charges related to trafficking in drugs and firearms. The IACHR also learned that the government declared a state of emergency on May 23, 2010.


The Commission deeply regrets the deaths that have occurred in this context, and urgently calls on the State of Jamaica to conduct a diligent, effective, and impartial investigation of these events.


The legitimate use of public force implies, among other factors, that it should be both necessary and proportional to the legitimate end being sought. For the degree of force exercised by officials of the State to be considered in line with international parameters, it should not go beyond that which is “absolutely necessary.” The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states, “Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” The IACHR has also said that State agents may employ lethal force only in exceptional cases, in which direct or imminent danger of death or injury could cause the death of the agent himself or of another person.


Case law of the Inter-American System of Human Rights has made it clear that agents of the State have the obligation to enforce the law and maintain order even when the process involves, in some cases, death or bodily injury as a result of the proportional use of force. Furthermore, the force used must not be excessive. When excessive force is used, personal integrity is not respected, and all loss of life that results is arbitrary. The IACHR urges the State of Jamaica to adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and security of all persons.


With regard to the declaration of the state of emergency, the IACHR recalls that the American Convention on Human Rights establishes the suspension of guarantees as an exceptional mechanism to suspend the enjoyment and exercise of some rights in time of war, public danger, or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of the State Party. Under Article 27 of the American Convention, the extent of the suspensions must be that which is strictly required to mitigate the emergency situation, which means limiting the period of time and geographical area in which suspensions are applied and limiting the rights that are suspended. Each and every act to implement the suspension of guarantees must be reasonable; that is, it should be strictly appropriate and commensurate to the situation and should not involve any type of discrimination.


On May 27, 2010, the IACHR requested urgent information from the State of Jamaica on the deaths of civilians and security personnel in the context of this wave of violence; on measures being taken by the State to minimize the loss of life; on measures being taken by the State to address the immediate needs of the victims of violence; on measures adopted to investigate and establish the circumstances and eventually the responsibility for each of the deaths that occurred in the context of these events; and on measures being taken to ensure that the declared state of emergency is conducted in a manner that conforms to Jamaica’s obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights. 


A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.



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Press contact: María Isabel Rivero
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