2004-10-14 / Caribbean Corner

caribbean roundup

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) – The fatal shooting of two people by soldiers in Kingston, Jamaica has recently been the focus of much controversy.

Human rights groups have said that Jamaica has one of the highest numbers of civilian deaths by the police and military in the world and point to this as evidence of extra-judicial killings.

Some have been worried that security forces abused their power during the state of emergency that was in force following Hurricane Ivan.

The Associated Press in Jamaica said heavily armed police and soldiers are still patrolling after a flare-up of gun violence following the deaths of 20-year-old footballer Gayon Alcott and 37-year-old community activist Sandra Sewell who were both fatally shot by soldiers at a street party last month.

The fatal shootings took place in August Town, St Andrew.

Witnesses said soldiers, who were assisting the local police, approached Mr. Alcott as he was smoking marijuana in a lane and shot him in the stomach.

As he attempted to run away the 20-year-old was shot again in the street, about 20-30 yards from the lane, they said.

Sewell was allegedly shot in the back as she crouched down in a bid to escape the gunfire.

The August Town case has been taken up by the human rights group, Jamai-cans for Justice which is headed by Dr. Carolyn Gomes.

“What’s certain is that two people are dead and that they were killed by soldiers. And then the stories part,” Dr. Gomes said. “The community is ada-mant that both of them were killed in cold blood by the soldiers. The army says that they were caught in a gun battle with the residents.”

A military spokesperson said they cannot reveal statements given by the soldiers who were there that night but the defense force say they are co-operating fully with the investigation.

The human rights lawyer’s comments have been backed up by Dundee Uni-versity Professor Derek Pounder who travelled to Jamaica to witness the au-topsies of the pair on behalf of human rights organization Amnesty Interna-tional.

Professor Pounder told the Associ-ated Press that the evidence of the “blood pattern at the scene of the death and the autopsy findings” corroborate the eyewitness reports.

“All of these pieces of evidence support each other. The pressure is now very seriously on the military to have their soldiers individually give an ac-count in detail of what they did and, if they fired shots, why and when,” add-ed Professor Pounder, who has previously worked for Amnesty in Israel and South Africa.

But Jamaican police have dismissed Professor Pounder’s comments as premature.

Assistant Commissioner Granville Gauze said several key statements have not yet been collected including a state-ment from the policeman who was at the scene. He said the policeman had only been interviewed on Monday morn-ing.

Mr. Gauze also said statements from soldiers who were involved in the incident are also to be collected.

Some people in the downtown shop-ping district of Jamaica’s capital believe abuse by the authorities of special emer-gency powers has taken place.

“In Jamaica right now search warrants are of no use because police just barge in like that,” one man told the Associated Press.

“No, they don’t have to have search warrant to come inside your house. They just come and do as them feel like,” a female resident of August Town said.

But others have said they feel more secure if the police act strongly to re-duce looting and violence.

“Basically I think it’s necessary because this is violence for everyone. I mean its killing, killing, killing ... and sometimes they might abuse their power, yes, but we can’t do without them,” said another resident.

However, Dr. Gomes believes a worrying trend has emerged.

“Jamaica unfortunately has one of the highest rates of killings of civilians by police in the world. We have been averaging about 130-140 civilians kill-ed by the security forces every year,” she said. “And so we are convinced that some of those in fact amount to extra-judicial killing.”

Assistant Commissioner Gauze who heads a bureau which investigates all police and military shootings of civilians in Jamaica told the Associated Press the police investigators have an average of 80 cases at any one time.

Mr. Gauze said their internal investigations are complete and not compromised. However, he raised concerns about the collection of forensic information after the shootings in August Town.

“The ideal thing is to proceed to any crime scene, whatever it is, as quickly as possible. It is difficult to do. Bear in mind, persons out of curiosity or whatsoever could very well tamper with the scene,” the Assistant Commissioner said.

Dr. Gomes agreed with Mr. Gauze that the integrity of forensic evidence was vital.

“Without the forensic evidence to back up or to clarify any story, then you end up with cases that result in impunity,” she said.

Residents of August Town have said they are ready for a fight. They have already met with ministers from the PJ Patterson administration and they have also requested that officers from Scot-land Yard be brought in to investigate the deaths of Alcott and Sewell.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) – Barbados’ government has seized two weapons shipments this year that were scheduled to pass through the U.S. Em-bassy before reaching other Caribbean islands, the U.S. ambassador said.

An air shipment confiscated in Jan-uary comprised 24 handguns and one seized in August contained an automatic rifle and nine shotguns, U.S. Ambassador Mary Kramer said. They were destined for the police departments of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, she said.

The Barbados Defense Force confiscated them, however, because of a “mistake we won’t make again,’’ Kra-mer said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The seven members of the Carib-bean’s Regional Security System purchase weapons for their police departments from the United States through a U.S. government program, but local gov-ernments do not pay for transport.

Since the U.S. Embassy in Barbados covers the seven eastern Caribbean countries in the Regional Security Sys-tem, shipments arrive in this former British colony.

The U.S. arms shipper failed to no-tify the U.S. Embassy of the imminent arrival of weapons and they were un-loaded before the embassy could send a diplomatic note to the government asking for permission, Kramer said.

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) – The inauguration of a Caribbean ap-pellate court has been postponed until March, saying more time was needed to recover from Hurricane Ivan, recruit judges and finish the court’s headquarters, officials said recently.

The Caribbean Court of Justice, which would replace London’s Privy Council as the final appellate body for many English-speaking islands in the region, was due to begin operating Nov. 6.

A grouping of attorneys from the region had agreed to postpone the Tri-nidad-based court’s opening until March although a specific date had not been set, Caribbean Community Secretary General Edwin Carrington said.

“With all that is going on – the passage of Hurricane Ivan, the need to complete the hiring of judges and support staff and the need to complete work on the headquarters building _ that there was no point in rushing to keep a November date,’’ Carrington told The Associated Press.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Gunfire crackled around Haiti’s capital as hundreds of mourners gathered to bury five police officers killed in a week of violence pitting supporters of the U.S.-backed government and ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Photographs of three officers who were beheaded sat beside their cremated remains in a police academy where the funerals were held Monday, while the open caskets of two others shot to death were prepared for burial as mourn-ers sang hymns.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard La-tortue, President Boniface Alexandre and Guy Philippe, whose rebels helped oust Aristide in February, attended the funeral for Jean Rivelino Janvier, who was kidnapped and decapitated; An-selme Milfranc, who was also kidnap-ped and decapitated; and Hilaire Adolphe who was decapitated. Officers Jimmy Cambelland and Jodelet Jean were shot to death.

“It’s so dangerous for police now,’’ said Adelin Jean, brother of Jodelet Jean, a 41-year-old police officer who was shot to death Sept. 28 while on duty. Jean was to be buried in northern Fort Liberte on the Dominican-Haiti border.

At least seven police officers have been killed during a week of violence that has left more than 29 dead and scores wounded. Several of those kill-ed were beheaded, although no group has claimed responsibility. Many Aris-tide supporters view the police as in-struments of the new U.S.-backed government, which quickly replaced Aris-tide’s administration.

“In the case of Haiti, we know very well that the criminals know what they are doing,’’ Latortue told mourners. “They want to destabilize the country.’’

Grappling with scattered looting, aid workers were also facing other security concerns that U.N. and local officials said was gang-related, not political.

U.N. peacekeepers sent to stabilize the country after Aristide’s departure were in Gonaives patrolling and trying to secure aid shipments

Argentine Commander Gustavo Rodolfo said he believes the violence is gang-related, not political. Many neighborhoods in Gonaives, where re-bels launched their three-week uprising in February, are still divided politically.

Desperation sparked by the devastating floods has inflamed existing tensions.

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