Human rights body urges govt to face 'phantom' phenomenon seriously
Stabroek News
January 16, 2004

Related Links: Articles on 'wrong man' death
Letters Menu Archival Menu

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has joined the call for an independent investigation into the allegations about the activities of an execution squad.

"The pretence of insufficient evidence to warrant serious independent investigation as a first step can no longer be sustained," the GHRA said in a press statement yesterday.

"In a healthy democracy an enquiry into unexplained deaths, ring-fenced from the possible political interference, would be the obvious response."

The statement by the human rights watchdog comes in the wake of recent disclosures by a man who says he was once an informant for a gang responsible for the deaths of several suspected criminals and others.

George Bacchus said he was once an informant for the group, which was formed in 2002 in response to the spiralling crime wave that revealed the inefficiency of the police force. Several wanted men were mysteriously killed and several others, some suspected of criminal involvement, executed. In some cases, the men were abducted and their bodies would be found shortly after. Bacchus also linked Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj to the gang.

The GHRA says the casual, if not smug, resistance of the administration to the evidence of methodical murders by elements operating with impunity is courting a serious breakdown.

Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon said government's action in investigating allegations against Gajraj would be formed on the basis of credible accounts of the death squad allegations being lodged with the relevant authorities. Bacchus has so far only made statements to officials of the US Embassy and members of the local media corps.

Evidence of the existence of the gang, the GHRA said, includes the sustained upsurge in contract killings and the criminal history of many of the

tims. Also, suspect is the failure on the part of the police to take the phenomenon seriously as well as the acknowledged communications between the minister and elements allegedly involved in the murders. The Disciplined Forces Commission's statements on the issue were also cited by the GHRA.

In its interim report on the police force, the commission said there was considerable anecdotal evidence suggesting that there was a practice of organised killings underway.

The commission noted that there were allegations that these killings were totally unrelated to the police, and may be the result of organised crime. Also, other allegations suggested that the failure of the police to tackle serious and violent organised crime may have facilitated, or even necessitated, these acts as an alternative deterrent. Others also alleged that these killings could have been state-sponsored and organised through off-duty or unidentified members of the 'Black Clothes' squad, an official police anti-crime unit.

Although they admit that they were unable to determine if any of the allegations are founded in fact, the commissioners said the authorities must distance themselves from such killings and reinforce the fight against these crimes. Also, that any anti-crime task force must always be clearly identifiable and that all killings must be adequately investigated. "The commission believes that if its recommendations in this report about better investigative techniques, tighter disciplinary systems, and greater accountability are endorsed, any such phantom squads should disappear."

GHRA says that the government has however chosen to focus on George Bacchus, rather than on the real issue, the killings.

"They have responded politically, berating the opposition and belittling the evidence, when what is desperately needed is vigorous and independent legal response," the GHRA considered.

The GHRA says Bacchus' credibility is not the issue. Rather, the only cogent explanation available for the large number of deaths appears to be the passive or active involvement of elements of the GPF operating under the protection of serious government or ruling party figures.

It warned that by ignoring this aspect of the allegations, the government is marginalising the likelihood of a peaceful solution of this issue. Furthermore, not only will elements of the Afro-Guyanese community remain exposed to the gang, but Indo-Guyanese could become vulnerable to retaliation. And even more, GHRA says, government's failure to act encourages other forms of vigilantism and lawlessness. Government, it says, needs to react in a manner that will serve the interest of justice and allay the fears of the population that the society is slipping into the hands of organised crime.

Since the allegations surfaced, the main opposition PNCR has led the call for Gajraj's resignation as well as a public enquiry into the disclosures. The GHRA said it was unfortunate that the PNCR chose to focus predominantly on the minister, rather than mobilising around the issue. "Notwithstanding the range of new constitutional mechanisms and commissions available and the constructive engagement initiative, within the course of a week the issue has reverted to a test of strength between the two parties."