Death squads violate basic human rights
February 24, 2004
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The term 'Death Squads' provokes a visceral reaction. It is something gruesome and terrible. The use of these squads pose a significant challenge to the principles of human rights which Guyana is bound by international law to promote. Death squads, by definition, violate human rights wherever they exist. These are clandestine, irregular organizations that carry out extra-judicial executions and other violent acts against clearly defined individuals-who in this case were some criminals and their innocent associates.
When Amnesty Inter-national stated that The Prevention of Crimes (Amendment) Act 2002 contained a provision with risks facilitating arbitrary arrest, indefinite arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture as well as creating a "shadow" system of justice in Guyana which was devoid of the essential safeguards needed to prevent abuses, many were upset by the candid report and believed it was a smear campaign.
Now, some 12 months later, we are being made aware of events that represent the embodiment of Amnesty's International analysis of the situation in Guyana. In retrospect, how insightful was the report.
The shadow system of justice manifested itself when public confidence in the primary law enforcement agency was lost, and the Army was requested to assist the Police execute its mandate. This gave rise to groups that seek to act with impunity. The two officers and a civilian arrested by the military with a weapons cache and a cellophane locating computer can be classified as part of a larger group that acted with impunity. The primary activity of these groups is murder, and they operate with covert support, complicity or acquiescence of the authorities.
The human rights community in Guyana should be concerned about extra-judicial executions because they represent multiple human rights violations. First, there are the murders committed by this group with impunity; second, their activities were conducted outside the scope of the law, which makes it criminal. Third, these squads are usually not brought to justice. These extra-judicial killings violate The Laws of Armed Conflict.
The Laws as codified in the Four Conventions of the Geneva Convention of 1949 explicitly prohibit executions without a fair trial. Common Article 3, which applies in internal conflict, forbids violence to life and person in particular murder of all kinds, mutilations, cruel treatment and torture of person. It also forbids the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized societies.
The Organization of American States, of which Guyana is a member, declared in 1994 that the systemic practice of forced disappearances or executions without the observance of due process is a Crime Against Humanity, a standard adopted by the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court, which Guyana has signed, but not ratified.
The Guyana Human Rights Association ought to vocalize their concerns thus sensitizing the international community to these atrocities which violate the rights of the Guyanese People and international laws that carry universal jurisdictions enforceability. An independent investigation is the right way to proceed, but only if the government sends the implicated official on leave so justice can be obtained, or appeared to be achieved.
Yeon Adams, B.Sc.