Police surgeon’s censure is a ‘slap on the wrist’ for torture

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) yesterday dubbed the “censuring” of Police Surgeon Dr Mahendra Chand a “slap on the wrist,” and accused Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy of depriving the Medical Council of Guyana of the capacity to enforce professional standards.

Leslie Ramsammy

“A slap on the wrist for passive collusion with torturing minors virtually ensures every attempt at suspension for lesser malpractice would be challenged legally,” the GHRA said in a statement. On Tuesday evening, Ramsammy announced that he had offered his ‘no objection’ to the council’s decision to censure Chand for professional misconduct in the treatment of a teen boy who was tortured in police custody last year.

However, the GHRA, the very first organisation to publicly condemn the doctor’s actions in the treatment of the child while a bag was over his face, said that the minister’s decision was made with complete “insensitivity to public, professional and legal sentiment” and that it has also protected the doctor from “meaningful sanction for his passive cooperation in the case of the tortured teenager.

“By securing ‘censure’–the lightest possible action–in place of its original recommendation of a two-month suspension, the minister has effectively deprived the [council] of the capacity to enforce professional standards,” the GHRA said.
The association said throughout the case the minister has shown “scant regard for public indignation, professional standards or the victim,” while making himself the central figure in the matter instead of sticking to his peripheral statutory role.

According to the GHRA, the Medical Practitioners Act does not presume the minister even to be a medical practitioner nor have him pretend to be one and the act limits the minister’s role to approving the decisions the council makes. Further, the association said the act provides for recourse to a High Court judge by any person aggrieved by a decision of the council with respect to suspension and as such it renders the minister’ interference “even more unnecessary.”

Referring to Dr Ramsammy Tuesday’s release, the GHRA said he agonised as if the doctor were the victim and referred to an earlier statements he had made that the doctor was placed in a situation where “he was damned if he did and damned if he don’t” and wanting “somebody to tell me what other options” were available to Dr Chand.

The release said such statements “are distasteful and misplaced.”  It also stated that the minister’s statement that “any doctor you would have put in that position would have ended up in trouble” was “dismissive of the entire medical profession.”

The GHRA said the minister’s actions are in danger of creating two precedents–giving the Minister of Health a role in determining professional misconduct, and, in effect, making the office holder the only person who can remove unethical or unprofessional physicians.

The council had earlier recommended that the doctor be suspended for two months, but subsequently rescinded that decision and recommended that he be censured.

The new decision was made after the minister returned the report originally sent to him by the council, asking it further questions.

The teen in question, after being taken into custody in connection with a murder investigation, was stripped and beaten before being burnt in his genital area at the Leonora Police Station. He was subsequently seen by Chand, although he had a bag over his head. An investigation by the police force’s Office of Professional Responsibility found that the torture of the teen and the two men was known by several police ranks, who were indifferent and complicit.

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