Inquiry should start in 1997

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to your editorial ‘The Lindo Creek probe’ (SN, Feb 5) and former President Sam Hinds’ missive captioned ‘The terminology for CoIs is important’ (SN, Feb 2).

This ad hoc public inquiry into killings at Lindo Creek (2008) as well as promised inquiries into other killings during the period 2002 to 2009 has been a matter of contention between the government and the political opposition and the public at large. As your editorial commented, it would be a waste of resources if the sequential gathering of facts is not obtained. Why start at the end instead of the beginning? Many feel an inquiry should have started in December 1997 as they view that period as the genesis of the crime wave. And many also complain that the title of the inquiry (as well as the period of investigation) is a non-starter with inherent bias.

People have already lost confidence in the inquiry without it even holding a hearing because of the manner in which it was established without consultation with the public or the opposition. As some have claimed, it gives the appearance of a political tool to blame the political opposition for the killings rather than truly investigate why there were the killings and who did them.

The opposition has threatened not to cooperate with the inquiry because it does not think it will be objective and will address the critical issues of the period. Unless the opposition and its supporters come forward and offer testimony about what transpired during the period, it will be a worthless and meaningless inquiry. It is noted that the crime wave from 2002 till 2009 was related to preceding political events (the December 1997 through Jan 12, 1998 election violence), and therefore, investigating 2002 necessarily requires going back to 1997.

As your editorial critiqued, the time-frame is critical. But also, there is contention over the appointment of the commissioner as well as what is to be asked (terms of reference). The government wants to investigate primarily killings in the so-called “Jagdeo era” by a one-person commissioner who is the father of a cabinet member. Although Justice Trotman is a decent person, it is hard to sell him to the public because of the nepotistic affiliation with the government. And the title of the hearings in and of itself instantly gives an aura of political bias in that it comes across as the government targeting the Opposition Leader. The term Jagdeo era killings is a misnomer and clearly any such inquiry starts off as biased, as it appears to indict a former leader without the inquiry even starting and with no evidence tendered. Why use the former President’s name? No one has used Burnham era killings or Hoyte era killings for an inquiry, and there were many killings which occurred during their tenure.

The opposition wants multiple commissioners, all crimes investigated, judicial independence and a different time-frame of reference.  Some in the public want the inquiry to go back to 1957 and cover the current period to address all political grievances – a kind of truth and reconciliation commission like those which took place in South Africa and Canada.

Unless the government addresses the concerns of the opposition and the public, the inquiry will come across as a hatchet job. The political crimes committed in Guyana between 1957 and now should be investigated. We need to know who did what to whom and who gave the orders. Let the chips fall where they may. Bring the culprits to account! An inquiry into the crimes is a matter of public importance. Don’t target one party or one issue or investigate only one era! A comprehensive inquiry will serve to educate the public what took place and reveal certain facts previously unknown. It will help to cleanse the soul of the nation. And the commissioner(s) must have the confidence of the public.

The inquiry should be re-titled with a different term of reference and time frame with more commissioners who should have no connection with the government or opposition – completely neutral. The commission must not only be seen to be independent but must actually be independent of politics.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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