The dirty war Editorial
Stabroek News
April 20, 2007

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The killing of Tshaka Blair by the Police Force's Target Special Squad five years ago on 6 April 2002 was the start of the gravest and goriest wave of criminal violence since Independence. The day on which Blair was shot dead in his home was the day chosen for the funeral of the former commander of the special squad.

Not only has an inquest never been completed but the death itself triggered a long dirty war in which killings by and of the police escalated. The US Department of State's Country Report on Human Rights Practices criticised the apparent impunity with which police carried out unlawful killings during those years.

Even before the troubles started, the United Nations Human Rights Committee had made recommendations to the Government for the prompt investigation of police killings and excessive use of force and for measures to ensure the prosecution of offenders and the provision of effective remedies to victims. The recommendations seem to have been ignored and public investigations are rarely conducted into such killings.

It continues to be a matter of grave concern that in 2002-2003, more police officers were killed than in the Force's entire existence up to that time. Scores of other persons were shot dead or simply disappeared and, up to the present time, some cannot be accounted for. Yet, there has been no attempt to investigate this entire episode in order to understand what happened and to prevent a recurrence.

It is evident that much of the trouble was caused by the clash between the police, who were actively engaged in killing over five dozen so-called suspects, and armed gangs operating mainly out of Buxton Village, who were also killing, kidnapping and robbing. It is also clear that several other murderous 'phantom' militias were prowling the countryside and city, armed to the teeth with modern high-powered weapons and supported by hi-tech computing and communication equipment.

The raids on households and individuals in villages near to Buxton, the release of a well-known businessman from his kidnappers in Lamaha Gardens and the 'Diwali massacre' in Bourda, the execution of the Deputy Head of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, and the robbery of business enterprises, all indicate that complex criminal, communal, political and racial factors might have been at the root of the troubles. One prominent 'housing developer' was brazen enough to publish a full-page advertisement in the newspaper to boast of his role in the two-year-long dirty war.

Last year's killings, particularly of Ronald Waddell in January and Minister of Agriculture Satyadeow Sawh in April, suggest that the militias might not have disbanded and that the dirty war is still being waged. In several instances, men said to be wanted for questioning in relation to Mr Sawh's murder are still being shot and killed instead of being arrested and grilled, by police.

When President Bharrat Jagdeo established a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of the involvement of Minister of Home affairs Ronald Gajraj in certain extra-judicial killings during the dirty war, he promised that an inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Mashramani jailbreak, the plight of victims of the criminal violence, and political linkages to the 2002-2003 crime wave, would be "seriously considered."

Even after that inquiries was completed, the President repeated his intention to establish what he called a "mother of all inquiry" to investigate a number of killings over the past 30 or 40 years. He should do so.