Monday, July 21, 2008


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Posted By Stabroek News On July 21, 2008 @ 5:01 am In Editorial | 1 Comment

It has become increasingly clear that one of this government’s favourite methods of addressing controversies is to pretend as if it is doing something about them and to hope that public interest dies away. It would then only act if doing so was in its interest and would accrue some public relations benefit. Otherwise, where the local audience is concerned, it presents a countenance of inscrutability.

That is the only conclusion that can be drawn if one were to consider the government’s handling of the torture allegations that sullied the Military Criminal Investigation Department (MCID) of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). Following the theft of a single rifle from Camp Ayanganna in November last year, several soldiers complained that they were brutalized by senior ranks attached to the MCID. The army remained silent in the face of several reports which were carried in the Stabroek News giving graphic details provided by the soldiers about their torture. Eventually, under the weight of the published reports the army said that it would be conducting an investigation and as far back as January of this year there were suggestions from Camp Ayanganna that several soldiers from the MCID would be disciplined for the torture. Or so we thought.

In March of this year, President Jagdeo, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces said that a report had been submitted by the army to the Defence Board but that it had not been discussed as yet. July has arrived and there has yet been no word from the Defence Board or President Jagdeo on what has happened to the report and its recommendations. The MCID has had a recently interesting history. It was thought to be behind the interception at Good Hope several years ago of Mr Roger Khan and his colleagues with their sensitive eavesdropping equipment. Quite a coup. The word was that their good interception work angered some in authority and as a result the MCID was miniaturized. It was recently resurrected with apparently close ties to officials in the Office of the President. The delay in the release of the findings of the GDF’s report lends credence to these suggestions.

At the minimum, the delay has severely eroded the credibility of the GDF’s report and as a consequence the GDF itself. Whenever the report is released it will be viewed with great skepticism unless it offers decisive and credible recommendations. Moreover, the delay in release has sent the unmistakable message that this government and its armed forces are very laid back in relation to investigations of torture allegations. This would of course put them in direct conflict with the provisions of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and make a mockery of the government’s first submission to the UN committee in 2006.
It must also be borne in mind that prior to the allegations stemming from the November theft from Camp Ayanganna, there had been similar allegations levelled against both the army and the police by two men from the East Coast who said that they were taken from the custody of a police station by soldiers to a location on the East Bank highway where they were tortured. One said he felt sure that he was about to die. There again, neither the police nor the army has presented any satisfactory or credible account of what happened to the men. There, too, the credibility of these institutions has been compromised.

Now, we have the death of a prisoner, Mr Edwin Niles which raises questions for three sections of the Disciplined Services: the army, the police and the prison service. The most searing questions have been asked of the latter in relation to serious burns on Mr Niles’ back which eventually led to a fatal clot and a fractured arm. Before being taken to the hospital he had been transported to the Brickdam police station where he was further interrogated over ammunition he was found in possession of. Clearly, the finding of the ammunition was traumatic for the prison authorities considering the bloody break-out from the same Camp Street jail in 2002 and its violent aftermath. The response of the prison authorities to the discovery, it appears, was unorthodox and brutal.

Already, the signs of fumbling among those in the administration are clear. No inquiry into Mr Niles’ death should involve anyone associated with the prison service, army or police and we hope that that is crystal clear to those whose mandate it is to make the decision.

Unfortunately, the handling of torture cases by the government and the armed forces is not convincing and must lead to serious questions as to whether they are committed to pursuing these. This approach of nonchalance and dereliction disrespects the families of the alleged victims and their communities. The government must understand this and act urgently to repair this injustice. As the GHRA has pointed out there is a need for an impartial inquiry into Mr Niles’ death and this must be proceeded with as soon as possible.

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