KINGSTON — The government has appointed a fact-finding panel to examine a May 2010 operation by security forces that killed more than 70 citizens in gritty slums during a state of emergency.
The government said the long-sought commission of inquiry will conduct a “fair and impartial” look at the deadly operation in Tivoli Gardens and a patchwork of other so-called “garrison” ghettos in West Kingston to catch Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the island’s biggest gang boss, and assert legal authority over the area.
The commission, created Feb. 24, will be led by David Simmons, a retired chief justice and former attorney general of Barbados. It was unclear when the panel will begin hearings but the government says it will try to conclude its inquiry within three months of whenever it starts. It says commissioners may hold a mix of public and private hearings.
The inquiry is expected to examine the conduct of security forces, how people were killed and whether citizens’ rights were violated by law enforcement officers or anyone else.
Amnesty International said Feb. 26 that the government must strengthen the panel if it’s to provide conclusive answers and deliver justice to people who lost relatives.
“Victims have waited nearly four years for this commission but, regrettably, the terms of reference that establish its mandate are seriously flawed and could prejudice the effectiveness of the inquiry,” said Chiara Liguori, Amnesty International’s Caribbean researcher.
Nearly four years after the offensive by the military and the police, basic details of what happened remain murky even though it was the bloodiest episode in recent history. There have been numerous allegations of unlawful killings in the barricaded housing complex of Tivoli Gardens and human rights groups have been calling for an independent inquiry for years.
Last year, residents of battle-scarred Tivoli Gardens rallied in the capital Kingston to demand accountability and justice for what they insist were numerous indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests and even mortar explosions by security forces.
Gang kingpin Coke and his “Shower Posse” criminal empire once dominated the slum. He was sought on a U.S. extradition warrant that Jamaica had stonewalled for nine months.
After denying it previously, the Jamaica Defense Force acknowledged in 2012 that its troops used mortar fire to break through heavy barricades that Coke’s supporters had erected to block entry to the slum.
Leaders of the security forces have said their men came under heavy gunfire in Tivoli but residents dispute that. Very few weapons were recovered in the operation.
In an interim report delivered to Parliament last May, Public Defender Earl Witter said 76 civilians and one soldier were killed. His office has been looking into complaints that 44 of the 76 civilian deaths could have been unjustifiable.