Several crime wave inquiries will have to be held – Harmon

Joseph Harmon

Given the large number of killings which occurred during the crime wave, several inquiries will have to be held, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said yesterday while assuring that before the end of the week the first one will be launched.

“They (the killings) range over a period of time but we cannot of course do one inquiry to cover all of them at the same time so we may very well be dealing with individual issues as we go along. So during the course of this week, by the end of this week we will launch an inquiry into one period of the killings and you can be rest assured by the first of February that work would commence on this inquiry”, Harmon told reporters shortly after eight new Land Surveyors of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission were sworn in.

Asked which period will be focused on first, he said that information will be made public when the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) is launched. “You will get either the period or the particular issue which is going to be dealt with”, he said.

President David Granger last week signalled that a CoI was being mulled when he addressed members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF,) at the opening ceremony of the Annual Officers’ Conference at Base Camp Ayanganna. 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 stating that there were 1,431 murders in that period.

The following day at a post cabinet press briefing, Harmon hinted that the CoI into the killings during the crime wave which began in 2002 following the escape of five high profile prisoners from the Camp Street jail was imminent.

Harmon said that Granger always felt that there should be closure for the families of those killed and had, even as the then Leader of the Opposition, brought a motion to Parliament asking that there be a CoI.

“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…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.

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 then former President Bharrat Jagdeo’s government was accused of supporting the activities of a vigilante “phantom” death squad. That squad was believed to have been led by convicted drug trafficker Roger Khan who claimed that he helped the Jagdeo government in its crime fight against targeted criminals.  Three massacres, at Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek in 2008, also occurred during this period

Jagdeo told a news conference on Saturday  that he as well as other members of the then government would be willing to testify if a CoI was set up.

He said that he had previously “dared” Granger to hold a CoI and had also suggested in the past that he be allowed to have an input in the formulation of the Terms of Reference.

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