Chairman of the recently constituted Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Camp Street riot, Justice James Patterson has described the scene at Guyana’s main penitentiary as similar to that of a warzone.
Patterson at a press conference on Wednesday pointed out that the team of Commissioners visited the Prison on Tuesday afternoon and saw the aftermath of the three day unrest.
The other commissioners include former Head of Prisons Dale Erskine, and Human Rights activists Merle Mendonca.
The Commission has been constituted to enquire into all the “causes, circumstances and conditions” surrounding the death of 17 prisoners from the Camp Street Prison.
The inquiry will also investigate the nature of all the injuries sustained by prisoners during the unrest.
Patterson said that on his visit, what he saw “seemed like a war zone that they are now getting back together.”
“I saw two contending factions, one may be described by some as the wretched of the earth and another as their oppressors; it’s sad…We met prison officers who I don’t think have slept in three days,” said the Commission’s Chairman.
With hearings set to commence on Thursday March 10, Patterson declared that all with evidence were invited to present themselves to the Commission of Inquiry.
On the first day of the hearings, the Commission is set to hear the ordeal of five prisoners affected by the Camp Street riot.
“We will do what we have to do,” he emphasized.
Responding to concerns raised by the legal fraternity over the presence of Erskine as one of the Commissioners, Patterson said that comments made by Chris Ram and Ronald Burchsmith are attacks on Erskine.
“You can’t somehow shut out people from saying anything about anybody…I was there when he took an oath to be impartial and I expect him to be that” he said adding that the comments were an “oblique attack on the gentleman’s character.”
In the interim, the Commissioners have recommended counselling for the affected inmates, officers and their families. (Jomo Brusheildon Paul)