Tuesday, November 28, 2006
by Gordon French
Caribbean Net News Guyana Correspondent
Email: [email protected]
GEORGETOWN, Guyana: The United Nations Committee against Torture has urged the Guyana government to guarantee that prompt and impartial inquiries are conducted into alleged extra-judicial killings, where perpetrators would be prosecuted and effective remedies provided to victims.
Former Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, had faced the heat of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into his involvement in a killing squad, widely believed to have executed several ex-convicts. The Commission found no evidence to suggest that Gajraj, who is now Guyana’s High Commissioner to India, had directed the squad, but he was forced to resign following immense pressure from local groups and the International Community.
Local media and social groups have speculated that a killing squad was operating in Guyana to rid the South American nation of hardened criminals who surfaced during the period immediately following a prison break at the country’s main jail by five inmates in 2002.
Families still continue to search for loved ones, some of whom have been kidnapped more that two years ago by men believed to be working with police, who had failed to curb the increasingly worrisome crime rate at the time.
The Committee recommended that the State party should take effective steps to guarantee the accountability of the police force and urged it to take immediate steps to prevent acts such as the alleged practice of extra-judicial killings by members of the police.
The UN body on Friday concluded a three-week session and issued its concluding observations and recommendations on reports from Tajikistan, Mexico, Burundi, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Guyana and Hungary, which it reviewed during the session.
Guyana recieved mixed reviews. The Committee noted with satisfaction Guyana’s ratification of most of the core international human rights treaties, and the recent efforts made to reform and strengthen the national legislative base. It expressed concern about the reduced presence of persons of Indo-Guyanese origin in the police force, which it said would appear to be among the causes of the high number of deaths in custody of persons of Indo-Guyanese origin.
The Committee also expressed concern about reports on the excessive length of pre-trial detention, which could occasionally last between three and four years. The disciplinary measures used in the treatment of prisoners were another matter of concern, in particular the Prison Act of 1998, which allowed whipping, flogging and reduction of diet. The Committee was particularly concerned about reports of widespread police brutality, the use of force and firearms by the police, as well as the lack of accountability of the Guyana Police Force.
It recommended that Guyana raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years of age to an internationally acceptable level, as already recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. President Jagdeo’s administration was also urged to take effective and comprehensive measures to combat sexual violence in the country, through the establishment and promotion of effective mechanisms for receiving complaints of sexual violence, including in custodial facilities.
Opposition Leader, Robert Corbin, has called for President Jagdeo to order inquires into several killings but, the President has indicated that he wants a broader inquiry, which will also investigate the spiraling crime wave after 2002.
The Government has repeatedly accused Corbin and his party of supporting the criminals.