Human rights body urges revamping of police force

Stabroek News
October 29, 1999

A document titled 'Overview of Police Conduct, Police Lock-ups, Deportees and Prison Conditions' was handed over to Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, by a Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) delegation on Wednesday.

In the document, GHRA calls for the creation of a Police Board comprising representatives of official agencies and a strong civic component, under the chairmanship of a civilian, a GHRA press release said yesterday.

The major tasks to be addressed by the board are: (1) Develop a national policy on crime and security. (2) Produce a Guyana Police Force (GPF) efficient and attractive as a career prospect for young educated people. (3) Establish an impartial mechanism to investigate complaints of corruption and abuse by individual members of the GPF.

"In view of the limitations of the GPF compared to the challenges confronting them, it is clear that the situation cannot be rectified entirely from within the GPF. Episodic mobilisation of civic support in the form of donations of equipment or other resources in times of crisis, together with calls on the civic community to support a particular 'onslaught' launched by the GPF, cannot substitute for a more systematic, wide-ranging and inclusive alliance between the civic community and GPF," the document stated.

A further concern referred to in the document related to the creation of special agencies such as the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit. GHRA said the agency, created because of perceived limitations in the GPF, erodes the authority of the GPF. The GHRA said "..rehabilitation of the GPF is the fundamental solution, rather than locating criminal responsibilities in other bodies, less subject to public scrutiny." The association said resistance to the idea of an independent oversight body for the GPF has resulted in two unsatisfactory substitute mechanisms--Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

The PCA, headed by a retired judge in his late 70s and established in 1989, is completely discredited, GHRA stated. The figures over the years of complaints processed have dropped sharply--571 in 1990 to 17 up to September 1999.

The sparse information available on action taken by the OPR suggests a work rate comparable to that of the PCA, the release said.

The GHRA believes the OPR represents a move to less independent and impartial investigation than the PCA, which is opposite of what is required, namely a strong civilian-dominated oversight mechanism under the authority of the police board.

The GHRA also recommended that the Brickdam lock-ups be renovated or closed down. A new facility to accommodate juveniles is urgently needed, it said.

The GHRA urged that the publishing of deportees' photographs cease since it reinforces the impression that deportees are responsible for serious crimes. The association further recommends that government take firmer action to have the flow of deportees reduced, and to ensure "sending countries" fund the process of their reintegration into Guyana.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples