Jamaica minister of security apologises

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Jamaica’s security minister has been forced to withdraw a remark that people killed by police can be considered collateral damage in crime-fighting.

Dwight Nelson was speaking to the island’s police federation when he said the country was at war with criminals.

He also pledged to get a top team of lawyers to defend police officers accused of shootings.

Human rights groups say the island has one of the worst records in the world for police shootings.

Ask most Jamaicans what their number one concern is and they will say security and crime.

Last year more than 1,600 people were killed on the island. Of these, 222 were allegedly shot by the police.

Only one conviction

It is not uncommon in Jamaica for officers to come under fire, but it has been claimed that many abuse their positions when using their own firearms.

In an address to the Police Federation, newly appointed Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson said that Jamaica’s security forces were involved in a war – and that in any war there would be collateral damage.

Mr Nelson was forced to apologise for these comments after criticism from human rights groups.

He issued a statement saying it was not his intention to imply the government would back unlawful acts, but it would support officers who used deadly force against criminals.

But Carolyn Gomes, who runs the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice, says there are too many unlawful killings by the police.

“It’s unbelievable, in the past 10 years the police have killed more than 2,000 Jamaicans and only once one policeman was convicted for manslaughter,” she said. “Only about 20 have been charged in that time.”

Only a few days ago Amnesty International criticised Jamaica’s security forces over the number of alleged killings by the police, despite noting a decrease last year. The government says it is planning to set up an independent commission to investigate.

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