Death and Death by Violent Means1874 30 Jul, 2012
Mr. Bulkan: I rise to speak on the motion before us, the one in the name of the Leader of the Opposition which seeks to condemn the barbarity visited upon citizens of Guyana and, in particular, the killing of and the injuries to several persons at Linden recently and for this honourable House to censure the Hon. Member Mr. Clement James Rohee, Minister of Home Affairs.
In American history the date 7th December, 1941 is known as a day of infamy. This was the day that Japan attacked the United States of America’s naval base at Pearl Harbour and which led to the United States of America entry into the Second World War. The date 18th July, 2012, will henceforth be similarly known in Guyana as a day of infamy. On that day three unarmed civilians, Roy Somerset, aged seventeen, Shemroy Bouyea, aged twenty-four and Ivan Lewis, aged forty-six , who were participating in a peaceful, lawful and legitimate protest activity were cold-bloodedly murdered by agents of the State and at least twenty other persons were injured, some seriously so. To date, no one has been charged for this heinous crime.
The Hon. Member Ms. Vanessa Kissoon has already read out the names of the many injured persons, so they already form part of the record of this House, and in the interest of time there is no need for me to repeat them, save and except to say that their names are etched in our hearts and minds and will forever live in our memory.
Can I respectfully ask that we pause and observe a few moments of silence as a mark of tribute to those martyrs?
Pause for a moment of silence.
It will be the actions of this legislative body, the highest forum in our land, which will determine how we honour the memory of those whose blood was so callously spilled, as well as those who have suffered injury and gave meaning to their sacrifice. Are we going to merely howl in indignation, righteous or otherwise? Or are we going to take meaningful and concrete actions to stem the tide of nihilism that threatens to engulf us? We, on this side of the House, say that someone has to take responsibility for the unwarranted and unjustified taking of human life and this is why this motion is before us.
This motion is not about prejudging, pre-empting or prejudicing anything as the Hon. Attorney General said on Wednesday, last. No Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members and Attorney General.We on this side of the House are not engaged in posturing or as you said “making a finding”. We are not speculating that we are in the midst of murder. No Mr. Speaker and Attorney General. The findings of the pathologist have established this. We are but discharging the mandate given to us by the electorate and citizens to represent their interests and their rights.
We are not proceeding in a vacuum, as the Hon. Attorney General suggested. The facts, footage and eye witnesses are there for those who want to see. The facts are that the policemen, who were at Linden that fateful day, did not go there to monitor, supervise or to exercise control over what was a planned demonstration as they were sent there unprepared. They were not equipped with protective shields, helmets and batons. They were sent there to convey a message, as my honourable colleague Mr. Trotman said, which was of driving fear, terror and intimidation into the hearts of the protestors and any others who might have entertained the notion of opposing this administration. They were sent on a mission to kill. The autopsies had revealed that all of the victims were shot either in the heart or in the region of the heart. This was no act of random or spontaneous shooting. It was plain murder - execution style. I submit that if we fail to act now then none of us will be safe, as it is clear that we are in the midst of monsters.
Margaret Somerset, the grieving mother of Roy, is pleading for justice. She cannot understand why her seventeen year old son’s life was taken away. He was guilty of no wrong, of no crime. The relatives and love ones of Shemroy and Ivan are similarly asking the same question. We have to act now.
The protest activity at Linden/ Wismar, on 18th July, 2012 was not one that the authorities did not know about. The planned five days of protest was announced long in advance and the authorities had ample time to address how to respond to it and they would have done so. Recall that permission was sought for the planned days of protest.
The Guyana Police Force, which has the principle responsibility of maintaining law and order, ensure public safety and security, and which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs, headed by the Hon. Member Minister Clement Rohee, cannot claim to have been caught unaware or off guard.
The subject of this motion, the Hon. Member Mr. Clement Rohee, is no neophyte, having served as a Minister of Government since 1992 - I believe, together with the Hon. Prime Minister, they are the two longest standing Members of this House and of the Cabinet – and of this particular Ministry since 2006. Further, he recently took this House on a self-described tour d’horizon in answering why he had issued orders for the curtailing of scheduled leave for senior officers of the police force. In this excursion of his, the Minister revealed what he considered to be important issues of national security consideration – we were just reminded by Hon. Members that he said he was on a watch for the nation – which he felt duty-bound to take into account as a reason for his directive and one of those had to do with planned disturbances at Linden arising from the announcement of steep electricity tariff increases in this month.
Minister Rohee named who he considered to be instigators or troublemakers and these included Mr. Lincoln Lewis, Dr. David Hinds, Ms. Lurlene Nestor - I was just reminded about the Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan - and others. In this regard, Hon. Member Clement Rohee stated that the Government had a duty, and he in particular, to assess national security threats, and he led this House to believe that he, as Minister, was on top of his portfolio or, if I may resort to the vernacular, was large and in charge. Minister Rohee established that he was proactive, not passive.
The time has come, in fact many believe that it is long past, for us as a nation to draw a line in the sand and say to our Government, whoever forms the Government, that we will not allow them to use those whose duty it is to serve and protect citizens to become their abusers. The cases of police abuses are so numerous that they can be properly described as pervasive, widespread and as an epidemic, even. If I may make an observation, in passing, and it relates to what I have just alluded to, which is the motto of the Guyana Police Force, “To Serve and Protect”, this question is very relevant, apposite I would even say, to ask: Serve whom and to protect who?
We were given a list, two lists in fact, at the last sitting of this House – today I see that a third list was given to us – of persons who are on the payroll of the Office of the President – note I say payroll and not employed there – and the emoluments that they receive. There are many names of interest or interesting names on this list as well as the designations of this privileged bunch. Some being Joseph G. Singh, Mahendra Roopnarine ,who is being paid a salary of $395,000 monthly; David De Groot, who was described as a Media Monitor, earning $160 thousand-plus monthly; Jason Abdulla, described as Special Projects Officer, receiving close to $100,000; another Media Monitor, Phyllis Samaroo, she is based in Berbice and Rupert Singh, a Research Officer. But the one that truly stands out is that of Mr. Desmond Kissoon who is listed as a Presidential Political Liaison Officer for Region 9 at a base salary, according to these documents, of $1.35 million monthly and a grand total of $1,747,000 monthly when the allowances are taken into account.
The documents are here; they were circulated to us.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker… [Interruption from Opposition Members]
Mr. Speaker: There is a Point of Order and I need to hear it.
Ms. Teixeira: I believe that the Minister had a corrected version that was put in the House last week and is attached to the Members’…and so he is incorrect.
Mr. Speaker: Several versions were provided by the Government to this House. It is up to the Member to decide which he wishes to rely on. What I would have thought…
Minister of Finance [Dr. Singh]: Mr. Speaker, if I may, Sir…
Mr. Speaker: One second Dr. Singh. As a lawyer – Mr. Williams in particular will bear me out on this – if a witness gives three answers while under cross-examination, Mr. Ramjattan agrees, it is for the court to decide which one of the three it accepts.
Minister of Public Works [Mr. Benn]: He is not a lawyer or a judge.
Mr. Speaker: He may not be a lawyer or a magistrate but I am just saying… But in any event, I think the more pertinent Point of Order should have been that the matter raised by the Member was not in consonant with what is being debated tonight.
Mr. Seeraj: You could have ruled on that.
Mr. Speaker: I thought I would have ruled on that. It was not counted.
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, with your permission, let me say that it is not accurate that several versions were circulated. What, in fact, transpired was that an initial response was tendered and circulated. Immediately upon certain matters being brought to my attention, which clearly highlighted that the response contained errors, I alerted two persons. I alerted the Clerk and I alerted the person who had asked the question, Hon. Member Mr. Joe Harmon who readily said… [An. Hon Member (Opposition): He is not here today.] I am saying that I readily alerted Mr. Harmon and he is an honourable man and would be happy to confirm that I said to him that the answer required correction and I indicated this to the Clerk. I asked the Clerk to arrange for the responses to be withdrawn and for the corrected version to be circulated. Later that evening, during the same sitting, a corrected version was circulated with a cover sheet which quite clearly stated “Corrected version replaces version previously circulated.”
I also, myself, spoke to the persons of the media bench and indicated that the corrected version would be circulated and they received that corrected version too, Sir. So it was quite clear that there were not two versions. A document was circulated and a corrected version of that document, clearly marked as such, was circulated subsequently.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, thank you. I accept your explanation. If, in fact, the Minister did indicate contemporaneously that what was presented was an error and asked the Clerk to retrieve it and another one was issued, well then I believe the issued corrected version should stand as the official document.
In any event Mr. Bulkan, Hon. Member, could you go forward with the motion please?
Mr. Bulkan: I hope I will be given the time that was lost due to the interruption. However, the document to which I referred, I received here in this National Assembly, was not something which was clandestinely obtained. I believe there are sufficient question marks so as to get to the bottom of the validity of this document.
Mr. Speaker, I have noted your comment and if I may be permitted to just briefly…
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, if I may, Sir, also point out that the Minutes of the proceedings of this National Assembly constitutes the official record of what transpired. There are official Minutes of the last sitting which include the official final answers tendered to the questions asked. The Minutes to the last sitting has attached to it the corrected answer as tendered to the Clerk. That constitutes the official record of what transpired in this House.
Mr. Speaker: That I accept. That is correct.
Mr. Bulkan: Whether the remuneration is the figure that I have given or it is a reduced figure that we are now learning about, my observation is still valid and pertinent.
The person to whom I have referred is well known as a coordinator and activist in Region 9.
Mr. Speaker: I have met him a few times; we had some encounters.
Mr. Bulkan: I have never had the privilege of meeting him. He is recognised as the party’s commissar in the Rupununi and he receives… Whatever his monthly package is, we are yet to find out. It is the courtesy of the taxpayers of this country.
Mr. Speaker: Let us get to the motion.
Mr. Bulkan: I think we are beginning to see whose interest is being served and who and what are really being protected.
Let me turn to the cases of allegations of police brutality and other unlawful actions. Before Minister Rohee’s assumption of this portfolio, there were numerous cases. Those included, and are by no means exhaustive, Donna Herod, Donna McKinnon, Shaka Blair, Joshua Shafeek, Yohance Douglas and George Bacchus. It included the following as well: Colin McGregor who, on 14th November, 1999, was gunned down and wounding of his brother in their parents’ home at Number Sixty Village, Corentyne. Nothing was heard of the promised inquiry.
Mr. Speaker: Who was that?
Mr. Bulkan: It was Colin McGregor of Number Sixty Village, Corentyne, on 14th November, 1999.
There was, in December 2001, the case of twelve-year-old Vincent Griffith – many will remember him – who was shot in a most cruel and irresponsible manner. He subsequently suffered the amputation of a leg. In January, 2002…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, the motion is to condemn the killing of three persons and to point to culpability and responsibility of this Minister of Home Affairs. As you have would noted, Mr. Felix, the Hon. Member, when he spoke, made reference to matters only during the tenure of office of this Ministry of Home Affairs. For you to go back, I do not think it would be appropriate.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I have respectfully noted what you said, but I am merely seeking to establish that the Ministry of Home Affairs was the subject of many and serious allegations at the time when the Minister assumed responsibility and I think it is relevant to the case that I am seeking to make.
As I was saying, there was the case of Mr. Brian King, who was shot to death by elements of the Guyana Police Force in January of 2002. One placard at his funeral read: “We want policeman not murderers”. That sentiment is very valid today, Mr. Speaker. In 2003, also, there was the case of Yohance Douglas…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Bulkan, with respect, that point has already been made. I am inviting you to fast forward a bit. If you want to go into a list, let us go to the Minister’s tenure.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I will move on.
The cavalier and contemptuous attitude of Minister Rohee was on full display when he gave a report on his stewardship at the Ministry of Home Affairs at the end of 2007. Speaking, in particular, on the issue of torture being practised by the police force – that is what I was seeking to establish – this is what the Minister said:
“It is the media, not the general public, who are pushing the issue just to sell newspapers.”
That was reported in the Stabroek News on 1st January, 2008. This was the New Year’s gift to the nation from this Minister, disrespect and gross insult to their sensitivity and their intelligence.
In a swift response to the callous attitude of the Minister, Colin Bascom, writing from the United Kingdom (UK) where he resides, and as a member of the Campaign for Justice in Guyana, immediately wrote a letter to the said Stabroek News which was published on 3rd January under the caption, “Minister Rohee has shown an ambivalent attitude on the rule of law.” In this letter Mr. Bascom said:
“With all due respect to the Hon. Minister, what planet does he live on?”
He went on to say:
“Even allowing for his proclivity to speaking rashly, this statement literally borders on the preposterous.”
There are many other adjectives which would have been appropriate, but Mr. Bascom was being measured. He also said:
“More than ever before the disciplined services need to be seen to be upholding the very laws they purport to enforce. This is a fundamental prerequisite to regaining the trust and confidence of the general public which is necessary. On the question of torture, extra-judicial killings, police brutality and the denial of due process, the record of the police force under this Government is woeful.”
While the echo of the Minister’s words was still ringing in our ears, a twelve-year-old boy accused three police officers of slapping, beating and kicking him - it was in January, 2008 – an allegation that he repeated at the Leonora Magistrate’s Court. The brutality allegedly occurred while the boy was in custody at the Den Amstel Police Station. The minor, who was found guilty of break and enter and larceny, said that one of the ranks “benched” him with a belt while another made him kneel and kicked him in the back. Another rank, he said, slapped him. Magistrate Fazil Azeez was reported as saying: “I am not going to sit here and let it go unnoticed in this court…” Though he noted that what the child said was only an allegation at that point.
Later in that same year, in October…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Bulkan, I think that the point is made. We need to get to the motion. We are not debating a substantive motion on police brutality. We are debating two specific resolutions that have been put by the Leader of the Opposition. One, to condemn the killings and express sympathy on behalf of this Assembly and the other to ask the President of Guyana to remove a Minister, as Minister of Government, for what happened on 18th July, 2012. I understand the context. What I am saying is that I think the foundation has been laid, and it is if you can move a bit.
Mr. Bulkan: Mr. Speaker, are you saying that any other cases or examples that took place under this Minister’s watch need not be repeated at this stage?
Mr. Speaker: I am saying that we can take notice of many things. What we are concerned about, specifically, is what happened on 18th July and the foundation has been laid that under his watch things have happened. I am not saying that you cannot refer to any. You have referred to some already. It is not as if you are not allowed to refer to anything. I am just saying…
Mr. Bulkan: Mr. Speaker, the cases that I wish to cite, as I said, are by no means exhaustive and they are indeed selective. I believe that in every single instance of police brutality, for the victim who so suffered, none is more important than the other.
Mr. Speaker: I agree with that too.
Mr. Bulkan: May I be allowed to refer to a few more examples?
Mr. Speaker: Go ahead.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. In October of that same year, James Nelson, also known as Jimmy Nelson, was discovered dead in the Brickdam Police Station lock-up from serious injuries which also included a ruptured spleen. There is a lengthy article in the Stabroek News which reported on that particular incident but I will not go into much detail. [An Hon. Members (Government): Read it.] I will give a short quote, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: What I can tell you, Mr. Bulkan, is that the urgings to “read it” are part of a plot to get us going. You are already twenty-three minutes into your presentation.
Mr. Bulkan: Two weeks after the unfortunate death of Mr. James Nelson in the Brickdam Police Station lock-up, there was the case of Ryan Couchman, a detainee in custody at the very Brickdam Police Station lock-up, who had to be rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital after he was allegedly beaten during an interrogation session. The Stabroek News reported on that.
On 5th June, 2010, there was the case of Mr. Winston Miller, an elderly person, in Bartica, in fact, he was a sixty-nine-year-old businessman, who was the victim of police brutality when he refused entry to a police officer who refused to pay a $1,000 entrance fee to see a pageant which was going on there. Mr. Miller alleged that when he refused to comply with an order from the police to report to the station he was assaulted by the ranks and had a gun pointed at him. He also recalled being thrown to the ground and trampled upon while being commanded to get in to the police vehicle. He alleged being kicked in the belly and to the temple and he eventually lost his sight in one eye.
The Police Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigated the matter and sent the file to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). In a twist of irony, Mr. Miller was subsequently charged and placed before the court for resisting arrest.
In November, 2010, there was the case of thirty-one- year-old Warren Welcome of Port Kaituma - perhaps my colleague, Hon. Member Allen, knows of that case – who was another victim of police brutality.
In April, 2011, there was the case of Kelvon Niles, aged twenty-three, of Sophia who accused two police Corporals of gun-butting him to his head and his face. One week later, there was the case of Yannick Willis, an eighteen-year-old of Bachelor’s Adventure (I believe that Bachelor’s Adventure is not far from Golden Grove, Mr. Speaker, and you might be familiar with the geography of the area) who was shot by the police, who were on patrol in that area, in an act that relatives and outraged residents alleged to be police brutality. Apparently eighteen-year-old Yannick was riding his cycle without lights and attempted to flee from the police when he saw them, but he was shot. He was not stealing a bicycle; he was merely riding one without lights. The police claimed that they saw him throw a gun into the trench, but none could have been found when a search was done.
The following month, that was in June 2010, there was the barbarity of the killing by the police of sixteen-year-old Patentia schoolboy, Kelvin Fraser. The Stabroek News reported on that sad event under a caption, “Slipping into darkness: The Guyana Police Force and the killing of Kelvin Fraser.” One of the things that was said in that article is, as has happened there, when no official report of the police killing of a sixteen-year-old schoolboy is forthcoming almost two weeks after the incident the authorities can hardly expect the citizenry to hold the police in much more than considerable contempt.
In closing, that article stated:
“Whether or not the killing of Kelvin Fraser will now compel the legal system to take an incisive inward look on the flagrant laws that have come to characterise policing in Guyana, it is difficult to tell. Precedent hardly gives rise to a great deal of optimism.”
Then there were some other cases. In June, 2010, there was that of Kwame Caldeira. A bit later, there was the case of a hire car driver in Berbice, Chatterpaul. Just a week ago, there was the case of Alvin Singh in Lethem who was alleged to have been severely beaten by three policemen and is calling for disciplinary action to be taken against them.
Between all of this…
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, we have listened for quite a while to the Hon. Member with great patience, I assure you, because we are trying to see where the Hon. Member is going. In terms of Standing Order 41 (1), he has drifted far away from the motion on the floor. Could he please get to the point? Maybe, the Hon. Member may want to bring a motion on police brutality, which he is free to do, but that is not what we are discussing here today.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Bulkan, you have spoken for twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds. I am asking you to please come to the motion at hand. Could someone please ask for an extension of time for the Hon. Member to continue or conclude his speech? In the time afforded, I am going to ask you to speak on the motion. Half of an hour has passed and we have not got to the motion on Linden as yet.
Ms. Ally: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Member be given five minutes to conclude his presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Mr. Bulkan: I believe that we have seen enough to recognise why this Minister should be sent packing if he is not prepared to do the honourable thing, which is to resign. In defence, the Hon. Minister is on record as saying that he was not there – that was at Linden on that fateful day – and he did not give any orders to shoot anyone. He is also on record as saying, in a special television programme, that he was not communicating with the officers on the ground at the time. “This is a fabrication,” he said. His actual words were: “You cannot be in Georgetown and talk with someone in Linden. It is impossible.”
Mr. Speaker, in today’s day and age when literally every child has a cellular phone and can communicate with any part of the country and internationally and I believe that you will agree with me that it is an absurd statement.
There are no kind words that I can find to describe such an attempt at a defence and, therefore, I will not bother to try.
I will, though, borrow the words of someone else and these words were uttered in response to the Government’s refusal to bow to the demands of the combined opposition for an international investigation into the actions of the phantom squad and extra-judicial killings. Calls that were made by the Governments of Canada and the UK following the report of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, one that I would have liked to refer to, but which time does not permit. The speaker’s words were:
“Firstly, in as much as we are disappointed in the Government’s reaction and response we are not surprised. A perpetrator of an offence rarely breaks down and confesses or willingly submits to an investigation or sanctions,” he said.
He further went on by suggesting that:
“Opposition parties should refuse to participate in any elections until the investigation is done.”
[Ms. Teixeira: Who said that?] I will identify the speaker in a short while, Madam, and I will give you the source.
“To do otherwise would be to provide a validation of everything that happened and we would have no right, moral or otherwise, to say anything in the future and the world would be encouraged to scoff at us as not being serious and patriotic.”
The very speaker said:
“I believe that we owe it to the relatives of those who lost their lives at the hands of bandits, terrorists, and by phantoms, to bring a complete closure to this dark chapter of Guyana’s history.”
Finally, he said:
“For the world to finally recognise our call and for us to do nothing would be the ultimate act of abdication and betrayal which should lead to the condemnation of all persons, groups, organisaitons and political parties who fought for justice and recently compiled the dossier.”
That was the dossier of the many victims of extra-judicial killings. I believe, Mr. Speaker, you will recognise those words. They are yours, Mr. Speaker.
Finally, the Hon. Member Minister Priya Manickchand said here, in this House, that this motion is not about Minister Rohee; it is about trying to weaken this Government; it is about breaking the Government; it is about getting into the Government by the back door. This is truly a sad position to take and in advancing such an argument the victims I submit have been killed for a second time.
In closing, therefore, I would say that while it may be too late for the Hon. Members who have already spoken in defence of their colleague it is not too late for the rest of the Hon. Members on the opposite side to join us and support this motion.
“How many more?”, the singer John King plaintively asked. We say not a single life more. Thank you. [Applause]
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