KINGSTON, Jamaica (FinalCall.com) – Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into allegations that Jamaican security forces executed some of the people killed in the hunt for a reputed drug lord.
The organization’s Americas director said credible reports from local advocates indicate that some of the 73 civilian deaths in May street battles were extrajudicial killings. Jose Miguel Vivanco said June 4 that an independent investigation is needed to determine whether police and soldiers used excessive force.
Jamaica police say at least 73 people died as security force hunted for Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who is wanted in the United States for alleged drug trafficking.
Deputy Police Chief Glenmore Hinds said all the deaths occurred as police raided the Tivoli Gardens stronghold of Mr. Coke. Officials had previously said that 44 civilians had died.
Information Minister Daryl Vaz said in late May that officials were trying to identify the victims and that the government will launch independent investigations into all police actions.
Deputy Chief Vas has said it is unclear whether Mr. Coke is still in Jamaica. The U.S. is seeking his extradition and called him one of the world’s most dangerous drug traffickers.
Jamaican authorities imposed a temporary curfew June 6 in troubled slums of the capital as security forces continued to hunt for the reputed drug lord. In a statement, security forces said the 24-hour curfew had been imposed in a swath of the gang-heavy West Kingston stronghold of Mr. Coke.
Police said freedom of movement was restricted to allow greater safety for patrols. There have been a handful of short curfews imposed since the bloody raid late last month by police and soldiers hunting for Mr. Coke.
Meanwhile Jamaican newspapers continued to cover post-raid developments and the Jamaican Gleaner reported June 9 that a permit system had been put in place at Tivoli Gardens to regulate the comings and goings of residents.
“Despite denials by the police yesterday that a comprehensive permit system governing all movement was introduced in Tivoli Gardens on Monday (June 7), Gleaner checks and anecdotal accounts by residents there confirm its existence,” Jamaica Gleaner said.
Though police told the media passes were needed between the curfew hours of 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., use of the passes was more widespread. “Ironically, the police preface their version of the permit regulations by ‘refuting claims in the June 8 edition of The Gleaner’ that permits even exist. However, a photo taken by The Gleaner of a permit issued to a resident contradicts the police statement,” the newspaper said.
“The permit, which makes no mention of applicability to curfew hours only, gives the date, the name of the person receiving the permit, date of birth, occupation and address. It then lists the conditions of the permit. The document appears to have the signatures of the deputy commissioner of police in charge of crime and the ground commander.”
“When a Gleaner team visited Tivoli Gardens on Monday (June 7), residents used the permit to enter and leave the community even in daytime, non-curfew hours,” the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile the Jamaican Observer said June 9 that things were improving in Tivoli Gardens. “Residents of Tivoli Gardens and the security forces say much has been achieved in placing their differences aside to improve the relationship between both groups,” said the Observer. “During a tour of the community last week, representatives from both parties said that a ray of hope was slowly returning to the community, which suffered badly from clashes involving members of the security forces and gunmen loyal to alleged drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, the reputed unofficial leader of the community, who is wanted by the United States to answer charges related to drugs and guns.”
The street gun battles, however, left many people traumatized and time would be needed for a healing, said residents.
“I have been living in Tivoli Gardens all my life. Things have improved since last week, the relationship is now better between both the authorities and the people,” one resident told the Observer. “Another resident said ‘the soldiers are kind to us,’” according to the newspaper.
The Observer said soldiers on the street said tensions had eased and a Tivoli Garden resident told the newspaper soldiers were using less force and another was grateful to soldiers for helping her child get medical attention. “The soldiers took my son to do his exams, it’s unfortunate to see what took place, given the fact that we are living like this now,” she told the Observer.
“Police said that some groups like the Red Cross, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, and some church groups have helped to provide transportation for students to sit for their examinations, among other things.
“Police also said that several days after the unrest, persons were tight-lipped and somewhat apprehensive in talking about the event that took place, as they all wanted to move on with their lives,” the Observer added.
(Compiled from combined Associated Press dispatches and Final Call staff reports.)
Kingston Jamaica in state of emergency after fighting erupts (Vide, 05-25-2010)