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April 19, 2014

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Amnesty: Jamaica panel needs to be strengthened

Updated Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 | 5:42 p.m.

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Amnesty International said Wednesday that Jamaica must strengthen a recently appointed fact-finding panel if it's to provide conclusive answers about a deadly 2010 security operation and deliver justice to people who lost relatives.

Earlier this week, Jamaica's government created a commission of inquiry to examine a May 2010 operation by security forces that killed one soldier and at least 76 civilians during a state of emergency. They said the long-sought panel will conduct a "fair and impartial" look at the effort to catch the island's biggest gang boss and exert legal authority over gang-controlled slums in volatile West Kingston.

But the London-based human rights group asserted that the three-member commission's mandate "falls short of what is needed to obtain truth, justice and reparation" for survivors.

"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, the group's Caribbean researcher.

Basic details of the 2010 security offensive in inner-city West Kingston and other areas remain murky. There have been numerous allegations of indiscriminate shootings, unlawful killings and many arbitrary arrests in the barricaded housing complex of Tivoli Gardens and other slums. Public Defender Earl Witter's office has been looking into complaints that 44 of the 76 civilian deaths could have been unjustifiable.

Amnesty said an imbalance in how the commission's terms of reference are framed could give an appearance of a "predetermined outcome." It also said the government should specify the need for the investigative panel to refer matters to prosecutors should it gather information about criminal wrongdoing.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd