Lawyers and human rights body call for sanctions

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) and a group of lawyers yesterday condemned the torture of a teenage murder suspect by the police and while calling for justice urged the public to confront this violence.

The three groups released statements after a picture of the tortured 15-year-old ended up on a newspaper front page. They all expressed horror and also used the opportunity to condemn recent attempts by the police to restrict the media from carrying out their duties as well as access by attorneys to their clients.

According to the GHRA statement, “the revolting brutality meted out to suspects… reveals the depth of depravity accommodated by the Guyana Police Force.”

While noting that there are reports that desperate efforts were made to conceal the condition of the accused from family members, the GHRA said that moreover, the police, citing non-existent laws and invoking higher authority excluded the media from Wales Magistrates Court.

The tortured teen (second, left) with a sheet wrapped around his waist being escorted into the West Demerara Regional Hospital by a policeman yesterday. At right is the hospital security guard. The teen’s mother Shirley Thomas (second, right) walks ahead into the hospital. (Photo by Zoisa Fraser)
The tortured teen (second, left) with a sheet wrapped around his waist being escorted into the West Demerara Regional Hospital by a policeman yesterday. At right is the hospital security guard. The teen’s mother Shirley Thomas (second, right) walks ahead into the hospital. (Photo by Zoisa Fraser)

The statement added that the acts were carried out reportedly in the Leonora Divisional police station adding that the genitals of a minor were doused with inflammable liquid and set ablaze; the inside of a mouth burnt with cigarettes and extensive wounds sustained from severe beatings despite a senior officer being reportedly in charge of the investigation.

“Such incidents in the Disciplined Services are becoming an accepted norm, occurring with frequency and with no consequences for perpetrators. Indeed, the highest political authorities have justified covering-up previous incidents of torture by preventing effective investigation, blocking publication of reports, downplaying the seriousness of torture in Parliament and repeatedly referring to ‘killing’ or ‘eradicating’ criminals rather than adopt language which promotes the rule of law.”

The GHRA noted that yesterday’s edition of the Guyana Chronicle made no reference whatsoever to the prevention of the media from accessing the court. It noted that the comment in that newspaper on the brutality was restricted to stating that the defence counsel requested the man be allowed to be examined by a private doctor because she did not trust those at the public hospital.

According to the release in recent years ruling politicians have utilized the crisis created by “the East Coast upheavals and atrocities such as perpetrated by the ‘Fineman’ gang to encourage responses of equally unbounded cruelty”, all justified under the rubric of a ‘war on terror’.
While there are no doubt,  elements within the Disciplined Services who are as shocked by this behaviour as other citizens, they are badly served by leaders who are too compromised with the political order to provide the independent professional leadership this sector now requires.
The GHRA pointed out that the recent refusal by the Guyana Government to have external monitors attached to the GPF as part of the UK-financed security sector reform programme is better understood in the light of abuses such as this, rather than by sanctimonious references to sovereignty.
The GHRA called on civil society, particularly the religious community, to confront the violence perpetrated by the Disciplined Services and deplore the official protection that it enjoys.

Gruesome
Meanwhile the GBA said the gruesome picture on the front page of yesterday’s issue of the Kaieteur News serves as a reminder of the “abyss into which our country has sunk and continues to be pulled into by those bent on the demise of our dear land.”

In its statement, the association said that it chronicles a clear disregard for the fundamental human and constitutional rights of the young man and must be seriously and unequivocally condemned since no person should be subjected to any violation of human rights.

The release pointed out that in this case the teen’s right not to be subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment; not to be unjustifiably denied his liberty and the security of his person; and not to be denied access to justice in the form of his attorney-at-law were all violated.

The GBA without reservation strongly condemned the actions and called for “a full investigation, prosecutions and if found guilty punishment of the actors involved,” the release said.

Chilling and
abhorrent
Citing several articles from the constitution and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a group of 24 lawyers described the torture of the teen and a murder accused as chilling and abhorrent.

The lawyers decried the refusal by the police to permit “another brutalized detainee” access to his attorney for a period of four days calling it a flagrant violation of the guaranteed protected fundament rights of the citizen, as set out in the Constitution, by those whose primary duty is to uphold the rights enshrined in it. In the statement they also spoke against the police restricting access of the media and other members of the public to the court.

They described such acts as “ominous signs of a cover up and suppression of the publication of criminal activity by law enforcement officers.”

The lawyers condemned in the strongest possible terms the torture of a minor and any other person while in custody by members of the police.

They demanded immediate institution of criminal charges against those responsible for the torture of the minor, an independent public Commission of Inquiry and the immediate suspension of the officer in charge of the investigation and the officer in charge of the station.

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