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Human Rights Watch called on Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson to order an independent and impartial inquiry into the killing of more than twenty civilians in West Kingston.

The killings occurred during police and army sweeps of the neighborhoods of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town, which began last Saturday. The violence continued for several days, abating by Wednesday.

Although police and soldiers claim that they shot their weapons after coming under fire themselves, some neighborhood residents report that the security forces fired indiscriminately. In addition to a reported twenty-two civilians, three police officers and a soldier were also killed.

"The extreme violence of Jamaica's police action means that a thorough investigation is needed," said Jos?Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "And to be credible, the investigation must be independent and impartial."

Jamaica has one of the worst records of police violence in the world, with official statistics listing an average of 140 people shot and killed annually over the last ten years. Given the country's small population, only 2.6 million, these figures are shockingly high.

Jamaica also has a poor record of failing to properly investigate and prosecute violations committed by police and soldiers. Police investigators do not, in general, look into crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces in an impartial or thorough manner. The result is a high degree of impunity for such crimes.

Given this background, Human Rights Watch is calling on the Jamaican authorities to establish an independent body with the necessary powers to carry out a full investigation of the recent violence. The members of this body should immediately interview witnesses to the killings and the members of the security forces believed to have been involved. Proper autopsies of dead should be conducted, and all other relevant forensic evidence should be obtained.

Human Rights Watch also said that, because of past incidents of intimidation of witnesses to police violence, it is crucial that all such persons be protected from pressure and reprisals.

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