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Letter urging thorough Jamaican police investigation of cases of homophobic violence

Dear Minister Phillips:

We are writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch, an independent nongovernmental organization that conducts investigations of human rights abuses in more than eighty countries around the world. Since 1978, Human Rights Watch has sought to promote respect for international human rights throughout the world. We work in cooperation with governments and local groups to develop legal and policy responses to address abuses and the underlying conditions that enable them.

Two Human Rights Watch researchers visited Jamaica in June to investigate abuses against people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, and people who have been incarcerated in prison or police lockups. We thank you for the transparency shown, and the cooperation and assistance given our researchers, by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force during this mission, including Assistant Commissioner Clarence Taylor, Superintendents K.K. Knight and Newton Ames, and Officer Percival Buddan.

However, our research indicates a serious and continuing problem with the failure of police response to violence against gay men or men suspected of homosexual conduct. We call attention in particular to three cases that occurred while our researchers were in Jamaica:

  1. Investigation of murder of Brian Williamson: On June 9, Brian Williamson, a prominent gay rights activist, was brutally murdered in his home. A suspect was detained, and an identity parade later held at Half Way Tree police station. Human Rights Watch has received credible reports that the individuals in the identification parade were presented with towels on their head and white cream (apparently toothpaste) on their faces, making them virtually unrecognizable.
  2. Murder in Montego Bay: On Friday June 18, Victor Jarrett was chopped, stabbed and stoned to death by Montego Bay residents. Human Rights Watch has received several reports that police participated in this incident, first beating the man with batons and then urging others to beat the man because he was a homosexual.
  3. Robbery and beating in Kingston: Human Rights Watch has received reports that on June 24, six men were driven from their home and beaten by a group of armed men, and that the alleged assailants included a well-known dancehall musician, Buju Banton (Mark Anthony Myrie). This attack apparently was motivated by hatred of gay men: the victims reported that both before and during the attack the assailants had called the men “battymen” (homosexuals). A Human Rights Watch researcher present at the Constant Spring police station on June 25 when victims of this crime reported the incident observed that several of the police officers—including some who took statements from the men who had been attacked—laughed when the men reported what had happened to them and made derisive comments about the victims and about gay men. There is concern that the incident is not being vigorously investigated.

Our research indicates that violence against men who are or are perceived to be gay is pervasive in Jamaica, and we have received many reports of homophobic attacks. International human rights law requires states effectively to ensure rights to all people, including by adequately investigating and punishing and taking reasonable action to prevent abuses committed by private actors. Jamaica is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits discrimination based on “sex,” including sexual orientation, and requires equal protection of the rights of all persons.

We are preparing a report on human rights abuses in Jamaica against people living with and at high risk of HIV, including abuses based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status, and abuses committed by the police. We urge you to ensure that the above-mentioned cases are thoroughly investigated, and that witnesses and complainants are protected from any reprisals. We respectfully request that you inform Human Rights Watch regarding the progress of these investigations. Your response will be taken into account in our forthcoming report.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Jose Miguel Vivanco
Americas Division

Joanne Csete
HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Programme

Cc: Francis Forbes, Commissioner of Police

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