Monday, July 27, 2009

Torture, plain and simple

Torture, plain and simple

Posted By Stabroek staff On July 27, 2009 @ 5:01 am In Editorial | 6 Comments

There is a familiar theme to the story as told by Mr Troy Small who was “questioned” in relation to the Ministry of Health fire: rogue elements in the joint services, with or without official sanction, continue to run amok. The nexus with the joint services clearly begins with the handing over of the severely beaten Mr Small to the Alberttown Police Station. Some policeman there must have interfaced with the beaters and must be in a position to elucidate who they were or answer why he/she did not invite these persons to also enjoy the hospitality of the police station while it was determined whether or not they should be charged for the condition that Mr Small was found in.

The fact that the latter did not occur would suggest that whoever received Mr Small at Alberttown was fully satisfied that his handlers were “cleared” to do whatever they did and their behaviour was not to be examined. The occurrence book at the police station and the officer in charge at the time would be exceedingly useful in the investigation to come and the police should avail themselves fully to answer the questions that arise.

It may well be that the intelligence of the joint services was spot on and that there were helpful things that Mr Small could have told them about the Health Ministry fire. What was however completely repugnant were the methods that were used to interrogate him: brute force, ignorance and criminality. They amount to torture, plain and simple.

It is not as if this subject is an unfamiliar one to the state as we pointed out in yesterday’s editorial. There have been over the last three or four years multiple, credible complaints about members of the Joint Services engaged in the most mind-numbing brutality. Among the more credible accounts were those narrated by soldiers Michael Dunn, Alvin Wilson and Sharth Robertson. What made these even more chilling was that the acts were said to have been conducted within Camp Ayanganna, the headquarters of the Guyana Defence Force, by members of the Military Criminal Investigation Department who were reportedly responsive to directions from persons within the Office of the President. Despite the solemn promises by the state that these allegations would be properly investigated, reported on and the necessary disciplinary procedures meted out, the ensuing report was not edifying and the perpetrators were slapped on the wrist, if at all, apparently without their licence to brutalize being taken away.

Prior to this, a series of other allegations had been made by three East Coast men including David Leander aka `Biscuit’ who has since passed away in hospital in still unexplained circumstances. Two other men, Patrick Sumner and Victor Jones had alleged torture at the hands of the Joint Services over a three-day period along the highway. So cavalier was the response of the state to these allegations that a proper investigation is still to be done.

Even more damning were the allegations made by Edward Niles before he passed away after a beating at the prisons. As recently as May this year, two Lindeners alleged brutality while in the custody of the police and were able to display evidence of welts. They were subsequently charged but there has been no investigation of their torture complaints.

The elemental truth about these horrific cases is that the torture is being applied because the Joint Services remains incapable of carrying out incisive interrogations and credible investigations. So, the beaten confession remains the technique of choice and it was one of these which was ironically thrown out recently in the case against Mr Leander for the murder of Minister Sash Sawh and three others. And the more the torture is applied the less cooperative ordinary members of the public and snitches are leading to even more torture. When will this vicious circle be severed?

What the public must understand is that a blind eye to the torture of people, who some may believe are of little consequence to society, endangers each and every one of us in the seconds that tick by after the atrocity. The same rogues involved in the torture will quite easily be streamed and recruited to conduct their business in various directions as the evolution of the death squad showed. So, no one should believe that dastardly acts such as those committed on Mr Lewis and others cocoon them from crime and the infringement of their rights. They are less protected.

Aside from self-preservation, Guyana subscribes to a core of principles which were constructed out of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of the principal treaties is the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Guyana made its inaugural submission to the Committee Against Torture after a 17-year delay and its submission was considered in November 2006. The Committee then issued its concluding observations in December of that year which addressed a range of issues including claims of torture.

The Committee expressed concern at the lack of statistics on cases of torture, the complaints tendered, convictions of perpetrators and compensation provided to victims of torture. It made the following recommendation: “The State party (Guyana) should provide in its next periodic report detailed statistical data, disaggregated by crime, ethnicity and gender, on complaints relating to torture and ill-treatment allegedly committed by law enforcement officials, and on the related investigations, prosecutions and criminal and disciplinary sanctions. Information is further requested on any measures taken to compensate and provide rehabilitation services for the victims”.

The second periodic report which should have contained Guyana’s response was due by December 31, 2008 but there has been no information on if this has been tendered. What is known, however, is that the government has failed to deliver to its populace the results of detailed investigations into the cases of torture and the sanctions that have been applied against those found guilty. It would seem that the government intends to pick and choose which of its international obligations it will adhere to and the Convention Against Torture is one that it appears determined to flout.

None of the declamations against torture offered by the Minister of Home Affairs or any other government official will amount to anything unless they address these complaints of torture frontally and have those guilty of these acts punished to the fullest extent of the law. Further, if the hierarchy of the police, the army and the prison service are intent on securing public opinion in their favour then they, too, must root out torture and prosecute torturers. Finally, there must be a recognition by both the ministry and the services that the reason for the almost reflexive fall back to torture on occasions such as the Health Ministry fire and the discovery of a gun in the prison is the corruption in the services and the inability to properly investigate and gather actionable intelligence. There must be a fundamental change in the outlook of the joint services for these deficiencies to be addressed. Until then Mr Small and all other citizens remain at risk.
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