Enquiry will be held into BASS killings
- Gajraj

Stabroek News
August 18, 2001

Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, has announced that an enquiry will be held into the deaths of the three persons who were shot by members of the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS) on Tuesday.

Gajraj said on Thursday it was a statutory requirement for an enquiry to be conducted for persons who died under such circumstances.

He pointed out there was no shortage of coroners to conduct inquests, if it came to that, because all magistrates were coroners.

Gajraj cautioned that prudence should be given high priority when dealing with persons who claimed to be eyewitnesses. He stated that anybody could claim he/she was an eyewitness and declared they should be produced when called upon.

"The issue of eyewitnesses is a dangerous phenomenon developing," the minister stated. "Unless these people could be produced, it would be a dangerous street we're going up."

Gajraj said senior police officers had travelled to Berbice to conduct the investigations into the killings.

Azad Bacchus, who was known for his feats of piracy on the high seas, his 15-year-old son Shaazah Bacchus and 18-year-old nephew Fadil Ally were shot dead at Scottsburg in the Upper Corentyne by BASS operatives following the younger Bacchus' interception for allegedly attempting to smuggle. (Back to top)

Enquiry launched into BASS killings
Dr Luncheon slams human rights group statement

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, yesterday defended the decision by the Home Ministry to mount an enquiry into the shooting to death of two boys and a man by operatives of the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS).

He also criticised the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) for rushing to the media without first ascertaining all the relevant facts and for suggesting that retaliation was an option if the government did not mount an investigation into the shooting.

Briefing members of the media yesterday at the Office of the President, Dr Luncheon explained that the enquiry was necessary because BASS was not a civilian law enforcement agency. BASS, he said, came under the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).

He observed too that the police were called in to investigates shooting deaths, which occurred in the army. Dr Luncheon said that was because the police had a set procedure, which kicked in whenever there was a shooting which resulted in death.

Turning his attention to the GHRA statement, Dr Luncheon noted that in three paragraphs it related seeing one of the deceased in different conditions. In one paragraph he was described as being taken to the hospital badly beaten, bloodied and with head injuries which had to be sutured; in the other he was described as being virtually unharmed; and in the third paragraph, he was dead but there were signs that he had been badly beaten.

Dr Luncheon observed that while neither he nor the Office of the President was in no position to say which of the versions of the incident was true, he did believe that credible organisations like the GHRA should exercise some level of caution in moving to the press lest they contribute to "developing [a] situation".

He described the last paragraph of the statement, which said that "in the absence of a prompt investigation we can expect retaliation," as a "dastardly one." Dr Luncheon said that it was "promoting [retaliation] as if this is an option that could be exercised by those who intend to retaliate were an investigation not promptly done.

"We are besieged daily by increasing instances of anti-social behaviour and criminal activity and, strangely, some sentiments that these forms of activities can indeed be legitimate on the grounds of a whole host of considerations-- discrimination, alienation, depressed neighbourhoods, ethnic insecurity and here we are being told now the lack of a prompt investigation."

Dr Luncheon said that he would not like "our national discourse and the social engagements between different categories and different classes of people in Guyana to be held hostages to such a development."