Use opportunity for credible probe of death squad claims
-UN urges 'political leadership'

Stabroek News
May 13, 2004

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The United Nations yesterday urged Guyana's political leaders to use the present window of opportunity to guarantee an independent and transparent inquiry into the death squad allegations which have swirled around Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj.

In a statement, the UN said that it and the international community stand ready to support Guyanese efforts in this matter "as appropriate and requested". It stated that over the past months Guyana's prospects for economic development and poverty alleviation have been blighted by the death squad allegations and the accompanying political impasse. "These developments are of major concern to the UN and the international community".

It described the recent statement by Minister Gajraj that he had asked President Bharrat Jagdeo to mount an impartial inquiry of the allegations and signalling his preparedness to leave office to facilitate this as a step in the right direction which needs to be followed up by the implementation of a "commonly-accepted approach towards the just and transparent resolution of this matter."

In consultation with its partners in the international community, the UN urged the "political leadership of Guyana to use the window of opportunity in the best possible manner… to guarantee an impartial, independent and transparent inquiry; and to re-engage in the institutions of governance". It cited the possible use of, as deemed appropriate, bi-partisan institutions such as constitutional committees and commissions operating in accordance with the relevant national and international norms.

Gajraj issued a statement last week revealing that he had requested the impartial probe. His statement came after months of public pressure for action to be taken by the government on the death squad allegations. President Jagdeo has not yet responded to the request for a probe. His information liaison Robert Persaud had told Stabroek News "the President at an appropriate time will offer a public statement on the matter … the when part is a presidential prerogative".

The statement by Gajraj has been greeted with some skepticism by the PNCR and other groups which say they want to see what action the government will take. The PNCR broke off dialogue with government because of the death squad impasse among other reasons. On the same day that Gajraj made his statement, the opposition parties sent off a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requesting help for an impartial inquiry of the death squad allegations and other matters. The government has been steadfastly dismissive of calls for an independent probe of the allegations saying that not a shred of credible evidence existed. President Jagdeo had also attacked the opposition and sections of the media over their repeated calls for the death squad allegations to be taken seriously.

Several months ago Gajraj's visas for the United States and Canada were revoked sources say because of the concerns that those countries had over the death squad furore. There were also suggestions that pressures of various types could be brought to bear on the government to yield to the demand for an impartial inquiry. Gajraj's statement came just a day after it was announced in Washington that Guyana was not on the list of countries to benefit from a new tranche of American aid - the Millennium Challenge Account. Prior to that, Georgetown was said to have been in a good position to benefit from this aid.

In his statement Gajraj had said that his request for the investigation was prompted by constant attacks on his character as well as the conclusions, based on speculations, suspicions and conjecture which have been peddled by opposition politicians and some sections of the media.

"I am no longer prepared to allow my integrity and commitment to the laws of Guyana to be the subject of a trial in sections of the media and at opposition political meetings", he had said.

Gajraj's ministry and home have been picketed by PNCR-led demonstrators on several occasions over the allegations.