Bar association wants independent probe of killings by police force
Hotline to be set up
Stabroek News
January 11, 2002

The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) is to set up a hotline through which citizens in conflict with the law could obtain advice to avoid their rights being breached by the police.

The GBA will also compile a register of extra-judicial killings and publish a leaflet giving guidance to citizens on what to do from the time they are arrested to the time their cases are finally determined by a court of law. It has also called for independent inquiries into all cases of alleged extra-judicial killings by the police.

GBA President Anande Trotman, Vice-President Nigel Hughes and executive member Khemraj Ramjattan called for an independent review of the operations of the Target Special Squad of the Police Force at a press conference hosted at its Brickdam offices to express its concern about the status of human rights in Guyana. Ramjattan is also a member of the association's human rights sub-committee, which Hughes chairs.

Hughes told reporters that another initiative to be taken by the GBA was the initiating of legal proceedings to enforce the protection of fundamental rights in addition to providing assistance to counsel for the relatives of victims of extra-judicial killings.

Hughes explained that one of the ways the GBA was going to seek to enforce the protection of fundamental rights was "by launching constitutional motions which will force the judiciary hopefully to give decisions which address issues as to how one protects the rights that are established under the constitution.

"I don't think that should be underestimated, simply because that will set out the guidelines under which all the law enforcement organizations have to function."

Trotman rejected charges of inaction by the GBA in the face of a decade of abuses, pointing out that over the years individual members of the Bar had been active pro bono in cases of human rights violation. She conceded that the GBA might not have been as active as it could but said that was due to the need to deal with certain problems internal to the organisation.

And Hughes said that the GBA's role was slightly different from other organisations as it sought to work with the evidence that was presented.

Trotman also bemoaned that the association had been unable to access funding locally from either the business sector or the donor agencies here for its work in this area.

Hughes said that the activities of the GBA in the human rights field included the pursuit of the enforcement of the rights enshrined in articles 138-153 of the Constitution as well as those set out in article 40. It also plans to initiate class action suits in appropriate cases.

Commenting on the compilation of the register of allegations about extra-judicial killings, Hughes said that it would include statements by independent witnesses. Also, he said that the GBA intended to take advantage of the forensic skill some universities overseas could make available in the investigation of extra-judicial killings, adding that it could increase the certainty upon which prosecutions were to be based.

Further, he said that the GBA intended to instigate private criminal proceedings where illegal acts were committed and to challenge on legal grounds cases which the Director of Public Prosecutions ordered dropped.

Ramjattan, a former prosecutor, said that there was need for a police culture in which the use of deadly force was a last resort.

He expressed the fear that if the police failed to rise to the challenge of being able to balance the rights of the individual and that of the need to control crime, it could lead to disorder resulting from the loss of confidence in the police by the public and, what he feared was already happening, jury disbelief.

Ramjattan stressed the need for better methods of policing as well as better forensic work. He also expressed the hope that the police would accept their comments not so much as criticism but as an expression of legitimate concern.