Extra judicial executions
November 30, 2002
In February this year the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) published a report on the excessive use of force by the police and in particular what it described as extra-judicial executions from 1980 to 200l. The report contained a number of interesting conclusions including the following:
a) fatal shootings by the police for that period show numbers for 1980-1985 and 1995-2001 to be equally high at 15 persons per annum, with the intervening decade experiencing an average of 6 deaths annually.
b) Of the total of 239 deaths recorded by the GHRA during that period 185 (78%) were Afro-Guyanese and 12% Indo-Guyanese.
c) Of the 18 deaths in police custody, 67% were Indo-Guyanese and 22% Afro-Guyanese.
d) The failure to hold Coroner’s Inquests constitutes the most important contributory factor to deaths by police shooting.
e) The vast majority of all shootings were justified by the police on the grounds of “wanted by the police”, “escaped from custody”, “resisting arrest” and “self-defence”.
f) Societal reaction to police violence in general has been ambivalent and selective, sending mixed messages to successive political administrations.
g) A high percentage of the extra-judicial executions are carried out by special squads in the police force which have operated under various names over the past twenty years.
h) A free media in the past decade has led to more complete information on fatal shootings and police excesses in general.
i) No political administration has dealt successfully with the problem.
j) The Police Complaints Authority and the Office of Professional Responsibility have failed to curb the shootings.
k) External factors contributing to the failure of the police to resolve the problem internally include political interference and official ambivalence towards the problem, poor salaries and conditions, inadequate equipment and training, commercial inducements to resolve crime and inadequate support from the other arms of the administration of justice.
l) The increase in police shootings in recent years parallels a proliferation of firearms in the society.
m) Analyses of the figures of police shooting do not support the charge of racial profiling.
The report created considerable interest when it was published as there has been considerable public agitation in recent years over fatal shootings, culminating in the shooting of Shaka Blair which led to a private criminal prosecution being filed by Mr Eusi Kwayana, subsequently discontinued by the Director of Public Prosecutions. An inquest has since been started.
Some of the murders that followed the jailbreak in February were said to be linked to reprisals for these extra-judicial killings. There have been calls for the disbandment of the Target Special Squad but in the prevailing atmosphere when most citizens were understandably scared for their lives and there was tremendous public insecurity there was little chance that the matter could be dealt with. It may be difficult to deal with the matter now but it is something that can be tackled in the dialogue process at a later stage. There is general agreement that a special squad of some kind is needed for certain operations and to deal with dangerous armed criminals but it is also strongly felt that this squad needs to be highly trained so it can operate in a professional manner.
It may be useful to note some of the recommendations the GHRA had made in its report:
a) The practice of holding of Coroner’s inquests into every death by unnatural causes without delay should be reinstated immediately.
b) When the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) does not act promptly to implement the findings of inquests, victims should seek redress in international tribunals such as the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the OAS and through the Optional Protocol of the UN Human Rights Committee.
c) As a potential source of racial tension, the Government should act to eliminate extra judicial executions and violence by the police.
d) The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) should be scrapped.
e) The licence of special Squads in the GPF and other squads which operate outside of the normal common structures should be terminated immediately.
f) The society in general needs to take unequivocal positions against all forms of violence as counter-productive and inter-related.
g) A new and comprehensive civic security policy should be developed in a bipartisan manner. Developing a new relationship between the police and the community should be a central priority in this policy.
h) Instruction on international standards pertaining to policing, especially internal rules with respect to the use of excessive force and firearms must be incorporated into GPF Training Programmes.
One cannot have anything other than enormous sympathy for that majority of policemen who have over the years tried to carry out their basic duties despite low pay, often inadequate vehicles and equipment, appeals to kith and kin and, at the worst times, direct political interference. It is indeed, if properly undertood, a tribute to our multi-ethnic society that some have been prepared to do their job despite all these pressures. It is in the interest of all concerned that reforms should be carried out including the fashioning of a new special squad, which can enable the force to regain its pride and dignity and the confidence of the public.