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June 7, 2004

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Today, I want to continue looking at arguments made over the Presidential Commission of Inquiry. I am a bit worried that a decision on moving ahead is taking so long. I also want to make it clear that Guyana should not accept any international funding for this exercise. If we cannot pay for a commission of inquiry from our own resources, we should not constitute such inquiries. I was shocked to learn that the Disciplined Services Commission cost close to fifty million dollars.

How much is this one going to cost? Meantime, the debate continues about whether the commission meets internationally acceptable standards. The Principles on the Effective Prevention of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions set out by the United Nations have wound itself into the debate over the credibility of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry established to probe whether the Minister of Home Affairs was implicated in the work of death squads. This five-year-old document has been advanced by the Guyana Human Right Association (GHRA) as setting standards by which to judge the commission established by the government. As I had argued in last Saturday’s edition, this document does not set the acceptable standards for commissions of inquiries per se since the principles set out therein are really intended to deal with the investigations into what we call extra judicial killings.

What the President of Guyana has established is a commission of inquiry to probe whether the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj, was and to what extent involved in death squads which are alleged to have perpetuated summary executions.

So it would not be quite accurate to say that the standards laid out in the Principles on the Effective Prevention of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions is the international benchmark by which the now christened Chang Commission of Inquiry is to be judged.

However, the principles set forth therein are ones not contestable and therefore once these standards are met there should be little complaints about the legitimacy of the inquiry.

As mentioned before, the three criteria for membership of such commissions set out are impartiality, independence and competence.

The Principles on the Effective Prevention of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions did not prescribe an international presence as a pivotal requirement.

And the reason for this is simply because the principles call for governments to establish their own domestic machinery which would investigate cases of extra judicial killings. Article 9 for example calls for Governments to maintain systems for the investigation of extra judicial killings.

So the misapprehension that the United Nations mandates international commissioners must be corrected. The principles approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989 arose because of the recognition of the existence of undetected and undocumented extra judicial killings and the further recognition that the investigative procedures in many countries were far from ideal.

The international community, therefore, set out to develop uniform international standards for the investigation of extra judicial killings and not uniform standards for commission of inquiries. The guidelines, while not exhaustive, cover such areas as processing of the crime scene, processing of evidence, avenues of investigation and personal testimony thereby confirming that the central purpose of these principles revolve around investigations and inquiries into extra judicial killings.

In so far as the three membership criteria are concerned, the GHRA’s position on Mr. Ivan Crandon flows from the qualification that commission members should not be closely associated with any individual, government entity, political party or other organisation potentially implicated in the death or disappearance of the victim. (I do not know which victim or victims we are dealing with).

Such an association, I held, must, however, be qualified; and I pointed out a series of reasons why Mr. Ivan Crandon is not disqualified under this rubric.

The second criterion is competence. So far, no one has questioned the competence of those appointed by President Jagdeo. The principles define competence as the capacity to evaluate and weigh evidence, and exercise sound judgment.

The final criterion is independence, construed differently from common usage in our parts. Independence merely refers to the members’ reputation for fairness and honesty.

Based on comments in yesterday’s ‘Nation Watch’, I rather believe that the PNCR is retreating from its initial stance that it considers the commission of inquiry a farce and would not participate in it. I suspect that the PNCR is open to discussions about widening the terms of reference and making other changes to the commission.

I wish to advise the government against this move, which will / can only delay this matter and lead to another impasse. The PNCR has missed the boat and cannot come aboard at this late hour.

The PPP has buckled to international pressure on this issue and I hope it will not make a mess of the present situation by entertaining any negotiations. The course has been set. The sails will be raised as soon as the question of the eligibility is settled.

The President has sought legal advice on the matter and is expected to act on the legal advice he receives. He should act strictly on the basis of legal arguments and ensure that political calculations are excluded.

I for one do not believe that Mr. Crandon should be removed and will hold to this view until I am shown arguments to the contrary.

As such, the President should ensure that the reasons guiding his decision are made public so that the public can assess the arguments for themselves. There should be no political deal over this commission of inquiry. This country will move forward with or without the PNCR. Guyana will survive.