Amnesty says Gajraj probe mandate must be sorted
Questions Crandon's appointment
May 20, 2004
Amnesty International welcomes the creation of the commission to investigate Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj. But it says questions about the panel's mandate and powers must be answered soon or basic flaws may jeopardize its ability to find the truth.
"The inquiry could provide a welcome opportunity to investigate recent allegations..." the rights group says in a statement, while reiterating that the serious nature of the claims is of extreme concern.
"These allegations must be vigorously investigated, and the public must have full confidence in those investigations," it added in the statement, where it also highlights concern over the selection of one of the members of the three-member commission.
President Bharrat Jagdeo set up the commission to determine whether there is credible evidence to support the allegations that Gajraj was involved in unlawful executions. Justice of Appeal Ian Chang has agreed, albeit with some reluctance, to chair the panel, which will also include ex-army head Norman McLean and Chairman of the Police Service Commission Ivan Crandon.
But parliamentary opposition parties have rejected the commission, saying it does not meet their minimum standards, while citing their concerns about its unilateral constitution, composition and its limited Terms of Reference.
Like the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), however, Amnesty sees the commission as a chance to investigate the claims, which the opposition and other interest groups have been pressing for over the last four months.
Nevertheless, Amnesty has reservations and urges that the commission be framed around international standards which provide detailed guidance on the elements of an effective investigation into alleged extra-judicial killings. Reference is made to the UN's Model Protocol for Commissions of Inquiry (the 'Minnesota Protocol').
One of the concerns cited is the appointment of Crandon, as he chairs the Police Service Commission. It was pointed out that his appointment would be contrary with international law requirements that those investigating allegations of unlawful killings be independent of those under scrutiny.
Despite concerns, Amnesty says that central to the success or failure of the inquiry would be its power to recommend criminal investigations that could lead to prosecution; also to produce outcomes to include a determination of all persons responsible for any illegal killings, and of any practice which may have brought about the deaths. It adds that the commission's ability to obtain all information, and the authority to compel testimony under legal sanction, to test evidence, and the power to protect witnesses, families of the alleged victims, and other sources from violence or other forms of intimidation, is also integral.
Amnesty International is also urging politicians and others with influence against making public remarks that may prejudice the outcome of the Inquiry.
This follows comments by the Head-of-State, who has said that he still has confidence in the minister as does the cabinet.
"Particular care must be taken to ensure that the outcome of the Commis-sion of Inquiry is not predetermined - or perceived as such - through premature speculation as to the innocence or guilt of persons allegedly implicated in unlawful activities, or through structural and procedural flaws," said Amnesty International, echoing a similar position by the GHRA.