Opposition jumped gun in condemning Gajraj probe
-says human rights group
Stabroek News
May 19, 2004

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The rejection of the commission of inquiry set up to investigate allegations against the Home Affairs Minister is premature, says the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA).

It adds that the opposition seems to be more interested in removing Minster Ronald Gajraj than focusing on the rights of the victims of the death squad.

On Saturday, the PNCR, the ROAR Guyana Movement and the WPA opposition parties jointly rejected the appointment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate claims of Gajraj's involvement in unlawful killings.

"While this is not the commission the GHRA hoped for..." the human-rights watchdog said in a statement yesterday, "given the track record of non-co-operation by the two major parties, the likelihood of a commission of inquiry that met the highest standards was always remote."

The GHRA said the announcement of a commission to investigate the minister's involvement in unlawful executions and death squads in his official - not private - capacity is highly unusual and said it would attract international attention. But it said the acceptance or rejection of the commission hinges on expectations and in this respect it has identified three possible scenarios.

Scenario One looks at severely reducing ministerial irregularities in the issuance of firearms and interference in the running of the police force. Scenario Two seeks to identify links between the minister, death squads and unlawful executions and Scenario Three looks for an investigation of all phantom violence since February 2002.

The statement said that while the GHRA originally called for a commission along the lines of the third scenario, it now feels that such a panel is conditional on much higher levels of political stability than currently enjoyed.

Nevertheless, it is the view of the organisation that the political opposition and other groups could get historic gains to eliminate remnants of party paramountcy over the police force and undermine patronage over gun-licencing. It also argued that if the opposition parties are prepared to mobilise the evidence they claim to possess, the terms of reference also permit exposure of unlawful executions and death squads.

"The GHRA believes the seriousness of the issues at stake... all demand a more considered response than has been forthcoming to date from the opposition parties. Complete rejection of every detail of the proposal suggests grandstanding. Walking away from the proposed commission will inevitably revive suspicions that [unlawful executions] were always a political convenience, not a substantive concern."

The GHRA also looked at the composition of the commission, saying it is unaware of any evidence to suggest the appointees do not meet tests for their impartiality, competence and independence as individuals.

The opposition parties have set out certain criteria that limit selection for any commission, while the People's Movement for Justice says it has information that raises serious doubts about the ability of the commissioners to act impartially.

The human rights body says if any such evidence exists, it should be made known publicly and explicitly.

"Accusations by innuendo are not evidence, nor are the ad hominem rumours that proliferate in small societies, discouraging people from making themselves available for public service," the executive says in the statement.

But the GHRA does think Chairman of the Police Service Commission Ivan Crandon's inclusion as an appointee may diminish the appearance of impartiality. This is because it can be said that he is linked to an institution that falls under the scope of the inquisition and to this extent the GHRA suggests that he should decline to serve on the panel.

International members and consultative selection are also areas looked at by stakeholders, including the parliamentary opposition.

The GHRA points out that these elements do not guarantee effective commissions, citing the experience of the 1997 General Elections Audit Team and more recently the Disciplined Forces Commission (DFC). In the latter case, it is noted that the integration of international experience in the DFC in the person of Irish human rights' activist Maggie Beirne did not prevent her high-quality recommendations from being set aside. It is also noted that the consultative membership of the DFC produced hardliners from the PPP, whose primary concern seemed to be defending party interests.

The GHRA did note that international involvement in the commission in an advisory or monitoring capacity should be considered and arrangements for monitoring could be made with the UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary and Summary Executions.

Concern for victims of extra-judicial killings is notably absent from the original proposals and opposition reaction to it, the GHRA also said. It says the original proposals virtually suggest that they do not exist, while the opposition is too absorbed with the minister. The GHRA also suggests that in co-operation with relevant agencies, the commission would need to ensure witnesses are not subject to retaliation or intimidation in keeping with appropriate UN guidelines.

The excessive defence of Gajraj by the President is deemed inappropriate by the GHRA which says it should stop.

The executive notes that serious criminal charges must be openly confronted and dealt with, not defended, by a president of the republic pledged to uphold the rule of law.