Mixed on human rights abuses
WASHINGTON – The United States has given mixed accounts of human rights abuses in four Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.
The US State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report released yesterday shows that in Trinidad and Tobago, the principal human rights problems were police killings during apprehension or custody, inmate illness and injuries due to poor prison conditions, high-profile cases of alleged bribery, violence against women, inadequate services for vulnerable children, and unsafe working conditions.
The report said that while the government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, as of December 17 last year, 41 persons died while in police custody or at the hands of law enforcement officers.
“Authorities investigated or opened inquests into some of the killings. All cases were reported to be under investigation, but authorities had not brought charges or otherwise punished any of the officers by year’s end. In the past, when charges were brought, 50 per cent of the officers were acquitted,” the Report noted.
It said that the authorities were also investigating the police Repeat Offenders Programme Task Force for allegations of misconduct, kidnapping, and murder made by members of the public.
It noted one allegation concerned Laventille resident Keon Glasgow, taken into custody in April and not accounted for since.
“His relatives believed that he was abducted and killed with police involvement,” the Feport said, noting that “there were no reported developments in the inquiries into the 2009 police killing of George Ashby or of the 2008 police killings of Mustapha Edwards, Karim Saint Aimee, and Russel Samuel”.
In Jamaica, the US State Department said that while the Bruce Golding government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, “there were reliable accounts that security forces committed unlawful or unwarranted killings during the year”.
Quoting official statistics, the US State Department said “there were more than 309 killings involving police during the year.
“This figure does not include the 73 civilians security forces killed in May during operations to arrest an alleged drug lord and gain control of a criminally controlled area.
“Reliable sources indicated that many killings by police were unreported, with police meting out the justice they see as unavailable through the judicial system. In most shooting incidents, police alleged that the victims were carrying firearms and opened fire on them.”
The State Department in its report said that in many cases, however, eyewitness testimony contradicted the police accounts.
“In other cases allegations of “police murder” were suspect, because well-armed gangs trafficking in weapons and narcotics and running lottery scams controlled many inner-city communities and were often better equipped than the police force.”
It said that violent crime remained rampant, and on many occasions the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) employed lethal force in apprehending criminal suspects.
“The JCF’s Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) investigated all police killings, and when appropriate, forwarded some to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for prosecution. The BSI completed 308 investigations during the year and sent 291 to the DPP for further consideration.
“However, it takes many years to bring police officers to trial for unlawful killings. Although there was progress during the year in bringing some cases to trial, there were no convictions, and no police officer accused of human rights violations has been convicted since 2006.”
In Guyana, the US State Department said the principal human rights abuses were complaints of unlawful killings by police, mistreatment of suspects and detainees by security forces, poor prison and jail conditions, and lengthy pretrial detention.
It said other problems included allegations of government corruption, including among police officials, and sexual and domestic violence against women and abuse of minors.
The Report noted that there were 13 complaints of unlawful killings and that on June 7, police officers, responding to a disturbance at a high school, shot and killed 16-year-old student Kelvin Fraser.
“The police said Fraser was shot during a scuffle, while an eyewitness said that Fraser was fleeing the scene at the time he was shot. A post-mortem examination found that Fraser died of shock and hemorrhage from trauma caused by gunshots fired at close range.
“On June 28, authorities charged police officer Quancy John with the murder. He was remanded to prison, and the case was transferred to the Wales Magistrate’s Court and was pending at year’s end,” the Reported noted..
The State Department said there were no known developments in the investigation by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the April 2009 fatal shooting by an off-duty member of the Presidential Guard.
It said that while the law prohibits torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; there were reports alleging mistreatment of inmates by prison officials.
“There were also allegations of police abuse of suspects and detainees; however, unlike in 2009, there were no reports of torture.”
During the year 11 complaints of unnecessary use of violence had been received and the local media reported several cases of random police brutality, arrest, and interrogation prior to investigation.
“Human rights problems included occasional use of excessive force by the police and societal violence against women and children,” the Report noted.
In the case of Barbados, the Report noted that “on rare occasions, there were police killings in the line of duty” and that all “such killings were investigated and referred to a coroner’s inquiry when appropriate”.
The Report indicated that both the June and December 2009 police killings of Hugh Springer and Denzil Headley, respectively, remained under investigation at year’s end.
“The hearing in the Springer case began in November; one in the Headley case had not been scheduled by year’s end. There was no information available about the outcome of investigations into the 2007 police killing of Michael Davis or the 2006 killing of Richard Gordon.”
It said the Barbados constitution specifically prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment, but sometimes there were reports that police used excessive force.
“ Most complaints against the police alleged unprofessional conduct and beating or assault. Police occasionally were accused of beating suspects to obtain confessions, and suspects often recanted their confessions during their trial.
“In many cases the only evidence against the accused was a confession. Suspects and their family members continued to allege coercion by police, but there was no evidence of systematic police abuse.” (CMC)