Rejection of Commission on Inquiry premature: human rights body
Guyana Chronicle
May 19, 2004

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THE Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has questioned the rejection of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry set up by President Bharrat Jagdeo to probe “death squad” allegations against Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, saying the opposition’s stand is premature.

“Announcement of a Presidential Commission of competent and impartial persons to investigate the Minister of Home Affairs’ involvement in extra-judicial executions (EJEs) and death squads in his official – not private – capacity is highly unusual and will attract international attention. However, the combined opposition appears to have rejected the Commission out-of-hand without convincing explanation,” GHRA said in a statement yesterday.

The human rights body did not specifically name the PNC/R, which has mounted an anti-Gajraj campaign, including a “rule of law” march which the GHRA has so far supported, but the PNC/R Saturday issued a statement publicly rejecting the commission and saying it would not accept its findings.

The GHRA said that while this is not the Commission it hoped for, “given the track record of non-cooperation by the two major parties, the likelihood of a Commission of Inquiry that meet the highest standards was always remote.”

It said acceptance or rejection of the proposed Commission hinges on expectations. “In this respect the GHRA has identified three possible scenarios. Scenario One focuses on severely reducing ministerial irregularities in the licensing of firearms and interference in the running of the Guyana Police Force. Scenario Two seeks to identify links between the Minister, death squads and EJEs; Scenario Three looks for an investigation of all ‘phantom’ violence that has taken place since February 2002.”

In light of the above considerations, “and notwithstanding the limitations of the proposed Commission,” added the statement, “the GHRA believes the political opposition and other organizations could secure historic gains with respect to eliminating the final remnants of party paramountcy over the Guyana Police Force and undermining party patronage over gun licensing. (Scenario One). If the opposition parties are prepared to mobilize the evidence they claim to possess, the Terms of Reference (TOR) also permit exposure of EJEs and death squads (Scenario Two).”

With respect to membership of the Commission, the GHRA said it applied the tests set out by the United Nations in the Principles of Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal Arbitrary and Summary Execution (Art.11). These refer to “impartiality, competence and independence as individuals” and “independence of any institution, agency or person that shall be subject of the Enquiry”.

“The GHRA is not aware of any evidence to suggest the members-elect do not meet the individual tests. However, should any evidence exist, it ought to be made known publicly and explicitly. Accusations by innuendo are not evidence, nor are the ad hominem rumors that proliferate in small societies, discouraging people from making themselves available for public service.”

As regards the contention that the investigations could be considered credible only if non-Guyanese were part of the process, the GHRA said “international members and consultative selection do not guarantee effective Commissions. The experience of the post-1997 Elections Audit is a case in point.”

However, it said international involvement in the Commission in an advisory or monitoring capacity should be considered. It said arrangements for monitoring could be made, for example, with the UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary & Summary Executions.

The GHRA said it is prepared to cooperate with the Commission.