US human rights report cites cops again for extra-judicial killings

Stabroek News
March 12, 2001

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens however, serious problems remain in several areas, the US State Department Human Rights Report for 2000 says.

The report said that the police continued to commit extra-judicial killings and police abuse of suspects persisted. Top police officials could not be contacted to respond to these charges and in the past the Guyana Police Force has not responded to specific charges raised in the annual US human rights reports.

The authorities took some steps to investigate abuses, but in general, the police continued to commit these with impunity. Prison conditions remain poor and lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem. The inefficient judicial system results in long delays in trials, it added, and the police infringed on citizens' privacy rights.

Violence against women and children, societal discrimination against women and Amerindians, and incidents of discrimination stemming from the racial tensions between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese are problems, as is child labour in the informal sector.

Extra-judicial killings

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) reported the police killed 13 civilians during the year, compared with 9 in 1999, 11 in 1998, and 27 in 1997. In most cases, the police shot the victims while attempting to arrest them or while a crime was being committed.

The GHRA also expressed concern about the death in custody of Shawn `Big Bird' Nedd, who reportedly was shot and killed on February 7 by police after being arrested, while being held in a vehicle of the "Quick Reaction Squad." Eusi Kwayana of the Working People's Alliance filed a private criminal charge against a police constable for Nedd's death. In July the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dismissed the case.

On February 9, police shot and killed criminal fugitive Linden `Blackie' London, a former army officer wanted for four murders and 14 robberies. Television cameras recorded a police officer shooting London as he appeared to surrender to the GDF, the report said. The manner of London's death, the report pointed out, led to speculation that he was executed to prevent him from revealing details of criminal connections within the Government or the security services. Several thousand persons attended London's funeral on February 16, including former President Desmond Hoyte, who publicly condemned extra-judicial killings by the police. Rhonda Forde, a female companion of London's, died when she was shot during the exchange of gunfire with London. On February 18, a government official announced that an independent board would not be established to investigate police actions during the lengthy standoff with London, but that police and defence forces would conduct a joint services investigation. However, no results of any investigation of London's killing have been made public, the report pointed out.

On March 18, a police squad shot and killed Hilton Rodrigues, wanted for murder and robbery; a police constable also was killed in the shoot-out. On June 23, a police officer shot and killed 26-year-old Ramdeo Rampersaud while attempting to arrest him on rape charges.

On August 18, a policeman shot and killed 14-year-old Trevor Crossman in Ituni, along the Demerara River. The policeman mistook him for his older brother, with whom the policeman had argued. In order to express public sympathy for the family, the Police Commissioner attended Crossman's funeral. The authorities charged the policeman with manslaughter; on September 8, he was released on bail pending trial, the report noted.

On September 3, Mohammed Shafeek died in the Brickdam police lockup. An autopsy revealed that Shafeek was beaten all over his body; his skull and neck were fractured. The Home Affairs Minister initially announced that police reports indicated that Shafeek might have been beaten by other prisoners. However, the Police Commissioner subsequently announced on September 28 that an investigation revealed that Shafeek was beaten by the Venezuelan crew of a ship that had since left the country, and that the police had arrested him for disorderly conduct. The commissioner added that Shafeek should have been hospitalized instead of being placed in a prison cell, and that procedures would be instituted in the future to ensure that injured prisoners were hospitalized. On October 4, the police submitted a 20-page report to the DPP. The report noted that disciplinary action would be taken against police officers involved, the report said. An inquest into the death is now underway.

On November 21, a presidential guard allegedly shot and killed fruit vendor Oscar Daniels in Georgetown. The guard reportedly was aiming at Daniels' cousin, with whom he had argued, and the guard took Daniels to a hospital, but he died on the way. Shortly thereafter, the guard returned to duty until media reports led to his removal. At year's end, an inquest was pending.

There were no new developments in most of the extra-judicial killings by police in previous years, including the police shootings of Fazal Narine and Colin McGregor in 1999, the report asserted. In April a jury found that no one could be held criminally responsible for the death of Victor `Junior' Bourne in 1998. Two police superintendents were charged with killing Bourne but defended themselves by asserting that they acted in self-defence. Human rights monitors questioned the jury's verdict by noting that the police version of the shooting was contradicted by eyewitness testimony, which stated that Bourne was in bed asleep when police shot him. Amnesty International issued a statement criticizing the verdict and expressing concern over the climate of police impunity in the country.