I had cause to write recently in an article entitled “Questions Must Be Asked” on problems within the security forces. It gave me great pain to do so. I am now forced to return to the subject. Once again, it pains me.
There has been a recent proliferation of allegations against the security forces of torture against persons in their custody. Despite credible reports and even photographs of the alleged victims published in the daily newspapers, there have been no published reports of investigations into these allegations. The result is that there is widespread suspicion that the security forces are engaged in the abuse of citizens, and now children. This is not good for Guyana because it discredits our country and people, painting all Guyanese as barbarians.
Inactivity at higher levels has created the belief that such abuse is tolerated. This notion needs to be immediately dispelled and torture of persons in custody, of which PPP members and supporters have been early political victims, must immediately cease. Too many loyal Guyanese, including top leaders of the PPP, have devoted too many years of energy fighting against the torture of persons in custody. Too many citizens have suffered from this type of atrocity for it to be allowed to continue for one day more. The recent photographs in the newspapers cannot be lying. They bring great discredit to the dedicated members of the security forces.
The Bar Association, in its heyday from the late 1970s to the restoration of democracy in 1992, has been a leading champion of free and fair elections, a sterling defender of the fundamental and constitutional rights of the citizen and a vigorous campaigner against what at that time it called ‘police brutality.’ Unfortunately, after 1992 the raison d’etre for its revival in 1978, democracy and free and fair elections, having been achieved, it took its eye off the ball, concentrating on other issues such as constitutional reform. I am not saying that the Bar Association became dormant. It still vigorously pursued its agenda. But as its old leadership fell away, the old issues began to fade and its agenda became filled with new ones.
We have all learnt by now that good intentions are not an adequate assurance for good governance. Institutional mechanisms must be devised and implemented to ensure that the abuse of citizens in custody does not occur. The fact that reports of torture supported by photographic evidence are surfacing more regularly suggests two things, namely, that no such mechanisms are in place and that these acts can no longer be hidden from public view. Sooner or later public condemnation and revulsion will demand that transparent systems be put in place as preventative measures. Why wait on public pressure? Delay will result in the continuation of the abuse.
There is an absurd view which has long been held by some in law enforcement that extracting a confession by means of duress is an acceptable way to solve crime. Imbued with this erroneous belief, inducements, threats, then coercion, are employed as part of the investigative techniques. These methods never work. Any hint of unlawful conduct by the police in taking confession statements usually results in the statements being thrown out by the courts. For decades the police have believed that the first step in the investigation of crime is to round up the suspects on the basis of information and not investigation. With no evidence, the next stage is to obtain a confession.
When resources for all agencies began to dry up in the 1970s, the investigative capacity of the Police Force began to deteriorate. As a result the steps of investigation, accumulation of evidence and then arrest of suspects had to be reversed. The process began from the arrest of suspects based on the accumulation of minimal evidence and then the process degenerates. This culture has clearly proven to be deeply entrenched because despite more resources, many reforms, greater openness, the work of the GHRA and a vigilant press, the same situation prevails. And it is getting worse.
The recent debate in the United States on torture of detainees, and the documents which have been released by the US Government, show that torture does not work because the information it elicits is unreliable. It further shows that it is much more likely that questioning without the use of or threat of force is more likely to result in the extraction of accurate information. So that the use of torture in Guyana, quite apart from being horribly and criminally wrong, is useless and counter- productive in the solution of crime quite apart from proof in court.
The establishment of the Police Complaints Authority and the internal Office of Professional Responsibility were clearly steps in the right direction. Equally clearly, these have not deterred security officials intent on violating the rights of citizens. Because they may have been led by inaction or otherwise to believe that they have free reign, they now believe that they can visit inhuman and degrading treatment on children, if the allegations are true. This is wholly unacceptable and must be condemned without hesitation or reservation. This situation now calls for a thorough investigation with wide consultation of the measures which can be adopted to strengthen or reorganize these bodies to ensure that no such horror, as we saw last week, returns to haunt our dreams of creating a nation which respects its citizens, nurtures its children and abides by the rule of law.