Torture ruling

While it may not be the final word on the horrendous 2009 torture of a 14-year-old in a police station, the ruling last week by Justice Roxane George in the civil matter brought by the boy’s mother emphatically underlined the gross violations of fundamental human rights and exposed the culpability of too many agents of the state.

The award of $6.5M against the Attorney General and the two primary accused, policemen Messrs Dulai and Lall could go some way in helping the victim to build a future. Of course, it is postulated that significant sums were already paid to the victim following charges in the lower court leading to the collapse of the case for the want of prosecution. Will the victim seek to enforce judgment in this case and will the state and the other respondents in this matter attempt to appeal this enlightened judgement?

Second, the ringing declaration and finding by the court that the boy had been subject to torture and gross violation of his human rights will go down in the record as formally establishing that within the police force there are base elements who are prepared to and have no qualms about setting the genitals of a boy suspect afire in a macabre line of investigation. Moreover, it is clear from the testimony in the case that there existed in this police district, and most likely in many others, conditions that allow the grossest abuses of human rights under the guise of investigations and a naked propensity to cover up such acts.

Perhaps as many as a dozen policemen and others including the police surgeon had been patently aware of what had happened to the victim yet no effort was made to rescue him from his torture chamber. How high up the command chain knowledge of this matter had seeped is still unclear. However, the subsequent disengagement of the police commander for that region left the blame clearly at her feet.

Following on Justice George’s judgment it is clear as day that the Guyana Police Force has some decisions to take. Messrs Dulai and Lall must no longer be part of this force or any other segment of the disciplined services. Their brand of policing, shades of which no doubt have been in evidence for some time, do not belong in civilized society but in the bloody dungeons of autocracies in other parts of the world. There should be a formal finding by the force of the transgressions of the duo and they should be penalized to the fullest extent of the authority of the force and dismissed from it. The force then needs to immediately embark on a campaign to ensure that all of its ranks, all of its police stations and its internal affairs department are fully attuned to the need to eschew the practices that were employed on this boy. The force must also come up with some mechanism which would send up red flags when juveniles in particular end up in police stations in violation of normative rules and without access to their families or counsel. Juveniles must not under any circumstance be taken into custody in the way that this 14-year-old was.

Said the judge: “…the facts in this case disclose a horrendous account of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment which ground my decision for finding that there has been a violation of (the boy’s) human rights generally to be treated with dignity and respect as a child and as a person. In my opinion, therefore the torture and cruel and inhuman treatment meted out to (the boy) has demonstrated and established an absolute and flagrant disregard for his constitutional rights”.

The finding of torture is particularly important as Guyana’s only submission in November, 2006 to the UN Committee Against Torture after a 17-year delay led to the committee expressing 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 and any further communication with this committee by the Guyana Government will leave it having to explain how after the November 2006 submission, conditions could have been so conducive in 2009 to horrific torture like that endured by the teenager.

The police force has to invest far more in human rights education for its ranks.

Third, Justice George’s determination to apply the principles of international human rights treaties as catered for by Article 39 (2) of the Constitution which states that “In the interpretation of the fundamental rights provisions in this Constitution a court shall pay due regard to international law, international conventions, covenants and charters bearing on human rights” is a welcome development in cases of this type particularly where domestic law and the institutions which should be safeguarding these rights are ineffective or feeble. The Judge also cited Article 154 in this respect and then adverted to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture  and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which are encompassed in the fourth schedule referred to by the article as the standards which this case was judged on.

In recent years very few cases of human rights abuses have made it as far as Justice George’s court and hopefully this ruling will empower others who have legitimate grounds to do so to press their cases as it is evident that neither the police force nor the government ardently protects the human rights of suspects.

Following the ruling, as is to be expected, several persons raised the point that the abuse of the victim should not eclipse the fact that he had been a suspect in a case of murder and that justice had not been done in that matter. The murder of Mr Ramenaught Bisram has indeed gone unpunished but the blame for this must be laid totally at the feet of the police. Had they applied 21st century policing practices instead of primitive torture they might have been able to build an irresistible case. As it is now, the prime suspects in this matter have a certain insulation and there would have to be significant new finding of evidence or confessions to move the case along. Had the police force been equipped by this government with the ability to gather the necessary forensic evidence at the scene of Mr  Bisram’s murder there would have been no need to disarrange one strand of hair on any of the suspects in the pursuit of convictions. After uninterrupted governance of 19 years, the PPP/C has failed to equip the force with the tools to take on crime and must be held accountable for the absence of justice for Mr Bisram and his family.

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