The National Assembly last evening approved a motion which called for the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate the torture of persons by the Guyana Police Force between the years 2006 to 2013.
After a fiery and lengthy debate, which saw AFC Executive Member Moses Nagamootoo testifying to being a victim of police brutality, the motion for the CoI was passed. The motion, brought by Leader of the Opposition David Granger and seconded by APNU MP Joseph Harmon, did not receive the government’s support.
Granger said that the motion came as a result of reform that has not taken place in the last fifteen years. “Over the last fifteen years the nation has been looking forward to police reform… we were convinced that the police force needed to be reformed, but instead of being reformed, we ended with a force that was deformed,” he declared.
Granger also asserted that when the PPP was previously in office in 1964, “we had perhaps the most notorious cases of torture”.
The motion resolved to have the National Assembly call upon President Donald Ramotar, in accordance with the Commission of Inquiry Act, to appoint a CoI to inquire into the torture of persons by members of the Guyana Police Force and to make recommendations to prevent a recurrence of such torture. It also resolved to have the Assembly express its sympathy with the victims of torture, specifically seeks an investigation of the torture of persons by the police force between 2006 and 2013.
Former Commissioner of Police and APNU MP Winston Felix, in supporting the motion, said that it sought to bring a qualitative improvement in the care and custody of persons taken into custody by members of the force.
Felix identified the cases of Patrick Sumner and Victor Jones, who were arrested in 2007 and claimed they were tortured; Michael Dunn, Sharth Robertson and Alvin Wilson, three soldiers who had complained that they were tortured in 2007; David Leander also called ‘Biscuit,’ who was arrested in 2007 and was badly beaten that he was unable to walk; and the teen boy who was burnt on his genitals while being interrogated about a murder.
Felix also recognised the recent case of Colwyn Harding, who had accused police at the Timehri Police Station of sodomizing him with a condom covered baton. However, at this point, Attorney General Anil Nandlall interjected, saying that the case is engaging the courts and cannot be heard by the National Assembly. But Deputy Speaker of the House Basil Williams, who presided over yesterday’s sitting, said Felix was merely “making an allusion and not presiding on the matter.”
Alex Griffith, the 15-year-old boy who has accused a cadet officer of playing Russian roulette with him before shooting him in his mouth recently was also identified as another case of police torture by Felix.
Felix also asserted that the policies of the force have not changed since the 1960s. “The call by the opposition leader came at the right time but it would appear as though the government would not listen,” he said.
One clause in the motion that cited wide reports that persons were tortured by members of the Guyana Police Force between the years 2006 and 2013, was challenged by the government members.
Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee argued that “stories that are widely reported in the media would be basically stories that have to be substantiated by the presentation of evidence in a court of law….”
He also questioned “where were these cases occurring that were widely reported…references were made to persons and I would like to know who are these persons and who were the members of the force that tortured them.”
Rohee argued that the force is an institution and as such “we cannot take the force to the court, we have to take individual and specific ranks to the court. By whom were they tortured? They cannot be tortured by the police force.”
He also made it pellucid that he “certainly” cannot support the motion in its present form as it “has motives that are in my view sinister.”
With reference to an article appearing in the February 8, 2014 edition of the Stabroek News, titled ‘Granger moves for Commission of Inquiry into police torture,’ Rohee argued that a statement allegedly made by Granger was a most frightening statement. “This is a frightening statement, not for me… I am fearful for others who do not have the opportunity to speak here,” he said.
With regards to police reform, Rohee argued that there has never been such an in-depth reform ever initiated but he added that “for reforms to take place the force has to take ownership of the process and it cannot only be driven from the outside.”
Meanwhile, Nagamootoo proceeded to tell the House in detail that he was the victim of “multiple episodes of torture.” “I have been the victim of near death experiences involving the police force… when I was placed in a vehicle with a cocked gun to my head and that was in the presence of Mrs. Janet Jagan in her vehicle,” he said. “On one occasion I was blindfolded, brought from Berbice to Georgetown…if that wasn’t torture nothing else is…Torture has no brand, torture is torture,” he said.
The AFC executive also said that while the motion was not the most ideal of motions and the time period could have been expanded, he was disappointed that members of the government had not taken the opportunity to “do what the motion would have invited.”
Nandlall, registering several concerns about the motion, argued that it was “bereft of information in support of it.”
Nandlall argued that there were other serious matters, such as suicide and corruption, and he questioned the rationale of the motion.
He also argued that while the motion makes allegation against the police force, there was no sufficient empirical evidence to establish what it set out. “One cannot make a bold and wide allegation that it was widely reported without setting out a single instance in the motion paper,” he argued.
Meanwhile, Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira argued that this is the second motion brought to the House to deal with torture. She also stated that there needs to be strengthening of the Police Complaints Authority.
Teixeira, herself a former Home Affairs Minister, also stated that those persons who are tortured and seeking recourse should use the court system and other measures that are put in place instead of the media “so that matters can be dealt with in the right way.”
Also speaking on the subject was APNU MP James Bond, who said that human rights are the greatest of rights and must be given the utmost priority.