Stabroek News
August 5, 2001

On Friday, President Bharrat Jagdeo was reported as expressing the view that coroners' inquests could be reintroduced for hearings into alleged extra-judicial killings, with a view to "hopefully... deal with all of these calls that we have for an enquiry." This statement was made in reference to the shooting of three men by the Special Target Squad a week last Thursday at the junction of the Industrial Site road and Mandela avenue. It was the first occasion since the killings that any member of Government has had anything to say on the matter, including the Minister of Home Affairs.

Given the graphic accounts from eyewitnesses of what occurred, one might have thought that the administration would have been anxious to establish the truth of events. Not so. The official attitude appears to be one of querying the veracity of first-hand witnesses to the events, or more especially, that of the media houses who relayed their testimony. This is coupled with the approach that 'sympathy' for slain bandits is misplaced; the emphasis should be on their victims. President Jagdeo himself conveyed this latter view at his press briefing on Friday.

The reason for the Government's lack of enthusiasm for investigating extra-judicial killings is not far to seek. The law-abiding citizens of this country are rightly appalled at the brutality of the bandits, and are frightened by the increasing incidence of criminal violence. Security of person and property is a fundamental requirement for everyone, and at the present time our sense of security has been seriously compromised. When the police kill alleged bandits, therefore, the public feels that the total number of dangerous criminals in the society has been diminished, and that in the process its security has been enhanced. The administration, no doubt in tune with public sentiment, then feels under no great pressure to investigate even what appear to be gross abuses on the part of the police.

Leaving human rights issues entirely aside for the moment, the question has to be asked as to whether at a practical level such extreme extra-judicial measures do in reality reduce the crime rate. The answer from outside this country is very clear; they do not. Apart from the fact that uniformed groups who act extra-judicially can get out of control, there is the danger that they may shoot innocent people by mistake. If the solution to a crime problem is to kill suspects without due process, then no one is safe. In addition, if the public perception is that whenever bandits are apprehended they are killed by Guyana's Finest in cold blood, then the criminals will have nothing to lose by firing on police every time they are stopped. Not only, therefore, will the officers find themselves in greater danger than before, but so will any innocent citizens in the vicinity.

Furthermore, extra-legal actions by the law officers of this land undermine the force, undermine the judicial system, and undermine the relationship with the public at large, who may eventually come to fear the police almost as much as they fear the criminals, if that is not the case already - at least where the Black Clothes police are concerned. How can one expect witnesses to come forward to give evidence in any case whatever if there is fear of the police? How can the morale of the police be boosted, or a career in the force been seen as attractive to potential recruits if the image is one of operating outside the law?

The evidence is clear; what reduces a crime wave is a high rate of apprehension and conviction of criminals. To achieve that locally, the Government will have to address the endemic problems in the police force and the justice system concerning which they commissioned two separate reports. Studying the recommendations contained in these, with a view to implementing the most important ones will do more in the long term to address the crime problem than anything else they might attempt. If they elect to do nothing, and extra-judicial killings continue, then it will be evidence of a total bankruptcy of ideas on their part to tackle the crime problem in a meaningful way.

Finally, while human rights in relation to the killing of bandits is not a big issue with the public locally, it is with the international agencies. Guyana cannot afford to acquire a poor human rights record in the world arena; it will come back to haunt us. We are committed to good governance and the rule of law, and international funding is contingent on a demonstrated willingness to foster these.