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Opposition passes motion for torture probe

Opposition Leader, David Granger

Guyana’s combined opposition on Wednesday rejected government’s offer to support a motion calling for a Commission of Inquiry if it was not confined to 2006-2013 but had been dated back to the 1960s.

The offer was made by the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic’s (PPPC) Gail Teixeira during her contribution on a motion sponsored by Opposition Leader, David Granger calling for an inquiry.

“I’m proposing that your motion be amended to have a Commission of Inquiry of levels of torture that were carried out in this country between 1966 and the present time,” she told the House. The Presidential Advisor said such a presidential probe would guarantee public scrutiny and immunity for all who were involved.

Teixeira said inquiries would help Guyana bring about some form of healing between victims and perpetrators at the political, organisational and individual levels. “We need to start having reconciliation in this country. We need to find a way to reconcile our differences to heal ourselves of much of the pain that is taking place,” she said, pointing to massacres at Jonestown, Buxton, Lusignan and Bartica.

She said 1,374 persons were killed between 2002 and 2008.

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall said the motion was frivolous and vexatious especially in the absence of supporting evidence. “The motion is bereft of any data in support of it. Are we gonna be a parliament of commissions of motion? Why is it we can’t have a comprehensive motion from the time of independence to now?

The Opposition Leader charged that there was insurmountable evidence to suggest that the government is in favour of the use of torture. Granger recalled then Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud labelling such acts as “a little roughing up” when the opposition and other groups had previously expressed outrage.

“What we are seeing suggests that there is a policy. There’s a policy that whenever people perceive that there is a situation that they are free to use or apply torture. Without any determination of innocence or guilt, without any resort to the courts someone people feel that torture is a convenient or useful tool to be applied,” he said.

Denying that the State and its institutions like the police force in any way approves the use of torture, the government parliamentarian recommended the strengthening of the Police Complaints Authority and the Police Force Office of Professional Responsibility as well as putting in place of witness protection systems as part of efforts to go after the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

In the end, the opposition used its combined one-seat majority to pass the motion without amendment.

Government had sought to tarnish the credibility and motive for the motion, saying that there was insufficient justification, apart from media reports, to prove that that there was torture.

But A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) James Bond churned out instances in which several soldiers have in recent years been tortured by officers of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and a number of civilians tortured by police during investigations. “These are not airy-fairy reports thrown for political mileage… Torturers must be brought to account… We must have criminal punishment for these criminals,” he said.

 Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee noted that individuals rather than institutions have to be prosecuted for torture. He refused to support the motion, saying that “it is in my view the motives are sinister.

APNU Shadow Home Affairs Minister, Winston Felix, cautioned against the holding of inquiries such as the one into the1980 bomb-blast death of Walter Rodney in which anyone is free to present hearsay and assumptions as evidence.

“The commission can create their own rules by doing so inadmissible evidence which cannot be taken to a court of competent jurisdiction but it is admitted there so anybody who dreams up something can go there and not be subject to the laws of perjury,”  said Felix, a former Police Commissioner.