by Denis Chabrol and Zena Henry
Guyana is eager to replace an 84-year old Extradition Treaty with the United States (US) and slash the powers of the national security minister in determining whether Guyanese should be sent to that North American country to face trial for a range of crimes.
“We should have a brand new one now with the Americans,” Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan told Demerara Waves Online News in an exclusive interview on Thursday, June 4. “Indeed we would have to do some amendment to both the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Act and also to have a treaty with America,” he added.
The extradition treaty between the two countries is actually a 1931 accord that Guyana inherited from Britain at the time of independence in 1966. Although it is widely believed that there are several sealed indictments against Guyanese drug traffickers, the US appears unwilling to ask Guyanese to extradite them for fear that the suspects would move to the High Court to successfully block their extradition as had been the case involving Barry Dataram.
Dataram was recently arrested and remains in pre-trial incarceration for allegedly being in possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.
US Embassy Charge D’Affaires, Bryan Hunt noted that Guyana, even prior to the May 11, 2015 general elections, had pledged to work with American authorities to crack down on drug trafficking. He said addressing the outdated Extradition Treaty would be a “priority” for discussions with Guyana’s new administration under President David Granger. “It is something that we would certainly explore with the new government and see how we can make the legal environment for extradition match what I think is a very favourable political environment to joint collaboration on counter-narcotics efforts,” Hunt told Demerara Waves Online News. He said US and Guyana were examining the “simplest way forward” on updating the Treaty and “make the process work smoothly.”
Asked whether the US preferred to see the role of the minister having the final say erased from Guyana’s Fugitive Offenders Act, he said: “The idea would be to make it as straightforward, simple a process as possible and one that is based upon solely the evidence that is available and presented in a given case as opposed to a political decision.”
For his part, the Public Security Minister said he would be taking the need for a US-Guyana Extradition Treaty and the scaling down of ministerial powers over extradition requests to his Cabinet colleagues for discussion in the hope of eventually engaging the 65-seat National Assembly for further consultations.
Ramjattan said he preferred a slackening of of the ministerial grip enshrined in the Fugitive Offenders Act or the Treaty. “I would like whatever powers the minister would have to be in the Treaty or in the Fugitive Offenders Act and not discretion as to whether we extradite at the hands of a Minister,” said Ramjattan, a well-known lawyer.
“If the law is that they have committed an offence of certain gravity and the commission of it is prima facie (sufficient evidence to prove a case) in the other jurisdiction then that person must be extradited,” he said.
While in opposition, Ramjattan’s Alliance For Change (AFC)- the second largest player in the A Partnership for National Unity + AFC (APNU+AFC) coalition-had expressed dissatisfaction with the amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Act by the then People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-led administration which gave then Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee the final say on whether a person should be extradited for a crime committed abroad.
Although Ramjattan had in 2009 opposed the widening of the minister’s discretion, he is now arguing that it should now be narrowed down as a matter of policy.
The Fugitive Offenders Act was amended five years ago to settle a conflict between a Court of Appeal ruling in 1992 that Article 7 of the 1931 United Kingdom-US Treaty implied that a person once extradited to the US will not be re-extradited to a third country and a High Court decision in 2008. That decision in favour Dataram states that there is no implied condition of prohibition of re-extradition of a fugitive offender to a third country emerging from the Treaty, effectively meaning that the Treaty allowed for the US to extradite the fugitive to a third country.
In recent years, the US has opted to pick up Guyanese in other countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama and have them face trial mainly in New York for various offences including terrorism and drug trafficking.