The government of Jamaica imposed a curfew and declared a state of emergency in several popular tourist areas this week, following an increase in killings in nearby communities that officials have attributed to gangs and lottery scams.
“Crime and violence in particular murders have been escalating in the parish of St. James. I have been advised by the security forces in writing that the level of criminal activity experience continued and threatened, is of such a nature and so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety,” Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in a release.
WATCH: ‘A nightmare that I haven’t woken up from’: Daughter of Winnipeg couple murdered in Jamaica searching for answers
Violent crime and high homicide rates have plagued the popular tourist destination for decades. A local publication called the Jamaica Gleaner wrote in a report that the region closed out 2017 with an astounding 1,616 murders, with 335 of those taking place in the parish of St. James alone.
Furthermore, the Gleaner goes on to write that almost 40 murders have been recorded in Jamaica in the first month of 2018.
Police said they will take a zero-tolerance approach to crime in the parish of St. James, where Montego Bay is located, for the duration of the state of emergency. Businesses and recreational areas are under also under temporary curfew.
In addition, authorities have imposed a curfew in parts of the St. Catherine parish, which is located west of the capital of Kingston.
During a state of emergency, Jamaica’s prime minister warned that security forces will have “extraordinary powers” and “some rights will be suspended.”
Police will have the power to search, curtail operating hours of business, restrict access to places and to detain persons without a warrant. In addition, anyone driving in and around St James will be subject to searches of their vehicles and their person.
Travel Canada issued an advisory to Canadians on Jan. 18, warning Canadians of the state of emergency declared in St. James Parish and other regions.
“If you are staying at a resort in the affected area, restrict your movements beyond resort security perimeters. If you do travel outside these perimeters, use transportation arranged or provided by the resort. Use organized tour operators for excursions and travel to and from the airport. If you are in the affected area, be extremely vigilant, follow the instructions of local authorities and monitor local news,” read the warning. The United States issued a similar travel advisory.
WATCH: Canadian couple killed in Jamaica home
There have also been several accounts of tourists being killed while visiting Jamaica. Most recently, an elderly Canadian couple was found dead just under two weeks ago in their home in St. Thomas, Jamaica. Police offered no motivation for the murders at the time, and an investigation is ongoing.
A report by Amnesty International in 2016 claims that these “eye-popping” rates of violent crime can be partially traced back to hundreds of unlawful killings by police, resulting in a “culture of fear” in communities.
“Jamaica’s shocking culture of fear and violence is allowing police officers to get away with hundreds of unlawful killings. Shocking injustice is the norm,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, in the statement.
WATCH: Government of Canada issues travel warning for Miami neighborhood due to Zika virus
The report goes on to claim that these unlawful killings often result in additional violence when police attempt to prevent relatives of the victims from pursuing justice. Amnesty International states that these tactics may include systemic intimidation, harassment and threats against relatives at home, work, hospitals, and even during funerals.
However, despite the high volume of homicide in Jamaica over the past two decades, a 2008 report from George Washington University Law School revealed that only 10 per cent of those killings have resulted in prosecutions since 1999. The report acknowledges that Jamaican police are forced to work under very difficult conditions.
WATCH: Travel warning issued for Cuba over Zika virus
It’s also important to note that as of 2016, the number of homicides in Jamaica had actually decreased significantly, despite the numbers still being high.
Moving ahead to 2017, a study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reveals that the Caribbean region has a “uniquely high level of violent crime.”
The report examines the five Caribbean regions of Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobego. The report concluded that homicide and violent crime rates in the area coincide with higher-than-usual rates of violence in the region. The strongest trend between all five Caribbean countries was an abnormally high rate of assault and threat of assault. The report goes on to recommend monitoring police and justice systems to begin addressing this problem.
-With files from the Associated Press.