Former president Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday voiced his willingness to testify if a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) is set up to investigate the deaths of hundreds of persons during the unprecedented crime wave that began his tenure.
“If there is something that we know specifically of, definitely,” Jagdeo, now Opposition Leader, told a news conference yesterday, when asked if he and other members of his the former government would be willing to appear and give evidence.
Last Friday, State Minister Joseph Harmon revealed that government was considering establishing a CoI.
“I am hinting that there is a possibility of a Commission of Inquiry,” Harmon said in response to a question during a post-Cabinet press briefing.
Harmon’s comments followed a statement made by President David Granger to the members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) at the opening ceremony of the Annual Officers’ Conference at Base Camp Ayanganna, where he said that his administration will ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. “Society has been scarred by violence, which left a lingering legacy of distrust with the potential of fresh disorder. Monuments at Bartica, Buxton and Eve Leary have been erected to the victims of violence during the ‘troubles’ between 2002 and 2009. We still have an obligation to investigate those troubles and ensure that the culprits are brought to justice,” he said, while noting that there were 1,431 murders in that period.
Following the February 23rd, 2002 Camp Street prison jailbreak, there was an unprecedented crime wave, with armed robberies and murders, including hits on police, reaching unprecedented levels across the country. Some kidnappings and high-profile murders were fueled in part by narco-trafficking and disputes between rival organisations, while Jagdeo’s government was accused of supporting the activities of a vigilante “phantom” death squad, led by convicted drug trafficker Roger Khan, targeting alleged criminals. Three massacres, at Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek in 2008, also occurred during this period.
Under the microscope
Addressing reporters at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, Jagdeo spoke of this proposed intention and he reminded that the former administration had made public a list of those killed. He noted that the current government “keeps pulling out the hat this thing about ‘the troubled period,’” adding that President Granger has been speaking of an inquiry of this nature for some time and had previously indicated his intention to establish a CoI.
“It has been almost three years and I dared him to do it and I suggested in the past that I would like to work with him on the Terms of Reference [ToRs] because we should look at the political operatives who were working with the drug dealers…,” Jagdeo said, while pointing out that the sitting government ministers who were accused of collaborating with criminals during that period should be placed under the microscope.
“So, I would love to have a Commission of Inquiry into the trouble period and why not extend it a little bit more to the past and bring it up to the future too. We can have a big CoI,” he said, before adding that in addition to good ToRs there should be credible commissioners. “Then you will see how politically-inspired many of the killings were in that period… that they got political support, the criminals. That’s the difference today,” he said, while noting that the PPP/C has an unambiguous position on crime.
Jagdeo insisted that the former government will “give as much as we can. I know there are lots of soldiers… and policemen who were deeply dissatisfied because they saw political hand in what was taking place but I am never going to go to a CoI and call their names because I will not want this vindictive government to damage their careers.”
He also expressed his hope that government would not attempt to “sterilise” the records before an inquiry is held.
Jagdeo recalled that as president, police showed him a confession statement made by the girlfriend of one of the criminals who went to the home of former Agriculture Minister Satyadeow ‘Sash’ Sawh on the night he was killed. “We knew who they [the killers] were. They were in prison and some of them got killed in the shootout…Their names were called…Police showed me but I don’t know they if [the names] are still in the files,” he stressed.
Jagdeo also said that the previous government was too inexperienced to ensure that a copy of this information and all other evidence gathered during that period was made and held at a secure location. “At the time, we did not think anyone would want to politicise this period. In fact maybe it’s naive…. Our big focus was on development,” he stressed.
Harmon told reporters on Friday that there must be “closure” for all those affected. “At some point in time, you have to bring closure to some things and I believe that is what the President is saying. We have to bring closure. Under the laws of Guyana, any crime where there is an unnatural death, the law requires that an inquest is held under the Coroner’s Inquest Act,” he said.
Harmon also noted that every year ceremonies are held to commemorate the dead and persons are left emotional.
He noted that while Granger was Leader of the Opposition, he was calling on the government to do something about it. “…Now he is president, he is in a position to do something about it. I want to assure you he will do something about it. When the president says something he means it,” Harmon stressed while noting that getting information is not an issue.
“There are still people who are out there who were never called upon to give a statement. Families who are there, who just heard that something happened… family disappeared.
Something has to be done about it. We have to bring closure to these wounds and I think this is what the president is suggesting,” Harmon said.