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Inquiry report released on protest shootings in Guyana
Published on March 4, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

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The Commission of Inquiry concluded that there was no evidence that Home Affairs and National Security Minister Clement Rohee (L) instructed Police Commissioner Leroy Brummell (R) to fire at protestors

By Caribbean News Now contributor

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- The commission of inquiry into the shooting to death by police of three unarmed protestors in Guyana’s mining town of Linden last July presented its report, findings and recommendations to President Donald Ramotar on Thursday.

The three shooting victims were part of a large demonstration protesting a 50 percent increase in electricity rates.

Riot police sent in from Georgetown fired teargas and rubber bullets at the protestors, who responded by throwing stones and teargas canisters back at police, who in turn responded with live rounds, killing three and wounding dozens.

Home Affairs and National Security Minister Clement Rohee was later accused of instructing Police Commissioner Leroy Brummell to fire at protestors.

Below are some of the main aspects of the report:

Events

On July 13, 2012 Sharma Solomon, Regional Chairman of Region 10, which includes Linden made an application to the Police to hold a peaceful march on July 18, and meetings on the July 19, 20 and 21. These events were in protest against the increased electricity tariffs for the Region. Permission was granted subject to conditions, that those in charge of the march were to ensure that there was no obstruction to the free flow of traffic; no blocking of access to the bridge and persons involved in the march were to walk as near to the left of the road as possible

On July 18, 2012 the bridge was blocked, three persons were shot and killed, others were shot, the police were stoned and buildings and vehicles were set on fire.

As a consequence the President exercised his authority and appointed the Commission of Inquiry to enquire into the events of July 18, 2012 related to the “Peaceful March”.

COI mandate

The Commission was mandated to inquire into and report on the circumstances surrounding the death of Allan Lewis, Ron Somerset and Shemroy Bouyea and the injuries of several other persons at the Mackenzie /Wismar Bridge; to identify what unit was deployed at the scene; what training was given to the unit in preparation for the crowd control operation; determine whether the shooting to death of the persons was done by the police, if yes, to inquire who gave the order to fire; inquire what, if any, general or specific instructions did the Minister of Home Affairs give to the Guyana Police Force to maintain law and order in Linden immediately before, during and immediately after the events on July 18, make recommendations to assist the Police Force in discharging their responsibilities for the maintenance of law and order in Linden and similar communities.

Findings

The report states that the positive evidence reveals that no police officer was injured; policemen were armed with guns and there is no evidence that anyone else was so armed.

The COI has reported:

“From these factors, one can therefore reasonably conclude that the fatal shooting was done by the Police. We believe that the police were responsible for the shooting to death of the three deceased as well as the injuries caused to several other persons at Linden on July 18, 2012, as there is no evidence that anyone else had a firearm which was discharged.”

‘Nonetheless, the discharge of ammunition itself by the police in the circumstances described by ASP Todd was justified having regard to the fact that the police were confronted by a very hostile crowd and there was no clear intention on the part of the police to kill or cause injury to anyone. The apparent intention was to scare the protestors into removing from the Bridge.”

“The shooting of Buckshot #00 pellets at persons in the crowd however another matter is and not surprisingly was not owned by anyone.”

Protest organisers blamed

The COI has also determined that the events could have been avoided if influential persons had intervened and advised the protestors to display due respect for the law. Mr Desmond Trotman, a Member of Parliament for A Partnership of National Unity (APNU) said “I do not consider the action of blocking the Bridge as breaking the law. I thought it was necessary.”

Ms Vanessa Kissoon, Member of Parliament APNU, did nothing to dissuade the protestors from breaking the law by the blocking of the Bridge. “We are of the view that at the centre of the circumstances surrounding the events at the bridge was the breach of the conditions imposed in relation to the march.”

The evidence led to the conclusion that adequate instructions were given to the members of the Police Force who were deployed for the occasion on the Bridge and that the persons so deployed endeavoured to observe the stipulations of the Standing Order in carrying out its law enforcement functions.

Sharma Solomon, Chairman for the Regional Democratic Council Region 10 which includes Linden, was the person who made the application for permission to stage “a peaceful march”. When questioned he said it did not occur to him that blocking of the Bridge was in breach of the permission which was granted to hold a peaceful march.

This is indicative of the attitude of the organisers of the protest and they must accept some responsibility for what subsequently transpired on at Linden on that day.

The view is that had the protestors responded favourably to the withdrawal request made by the police the result of the event would have been completely different.

Deployment of Forces

The Commissioner of Police on July 18 moved to deploy a Half Unit from the Tactical Services Unit (TSU) to Linden as a standby to the Linden Patrols, as he had received information from Intelligence sources that there would have been heavy disorder in Linden. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were followed regarding the number of ranks to be deployed and for the issuance of ammunition. SOPs were likewise followed on the tactics to be used to handle the situation as it developed.

At 11.00 am the Unit encountered approximately 800 persons on the bridge with logs blocking the entrance. The Unit was surrounded by the protesters who began to chant in a loud voice: “The electricity hike is too high. Don’t try to stop us. We are gonna burn the bridge and paint the town in red.” The Unit returned to the Police Station in accord with instructions issued by their senior officer.

At 17:55 hrs, they were instructed to clear the bridge before it was dark and should not engage the crowd without being so instructed. ASP Todd sounded the siren and gave three blasts so that persons gathered would be made aware of the police presence, and listen to the Proclamation through the loudhailer.

Both ASP Stanton and SS Hicken testified that they approached Aubrey Norton, Lincoln Lewis and Vanessa Kissoon to have the protesters leave the bridge, but without success. ASP Stanton further stated that he overheard the activists, Aubrey Norton, Vanessa Kissoon and Hinds, encouraging the protesters to remain on the bridge as it was a just cause.

Sharma Solomon admitted that he understood that the permission was granted subject to conditions. He agreed that it was wrong for the bridge to be blocked. He admitted that around 6.00 pm. he received a letter from Commander Hicken that the conditions in relation to the permission were violated and the permission granted had been rescinded.

Minister Rohee exonerated

In so far as instructions before July 18 are concerned, the evidence pointed only to the Minister giving a direction to the Commissioner on July 17, 2012 to take all lawful steps to maintain law and order.

There is no evidence that the Minister gave instructions to anyone during the events of July 18, 2012. All that the Minister and the parties who testified on interaction with the Minister admitted was that the Minister was trying to obtain information as to what was happening in Linden on July 18 in his telephone conversations with the police during that day.

No evidence emerged that the Minister gave instructions or directions to the police during the events of July 18.

Linden aftermath

The COI reported that it is clear that the violence and destruction after the July 18 shootings were occasioned by the protestors who were aggrieved by what they concluded was the police actions in shooting at the protestors.

The Lindeners incensed at the announcement by the government that there would be a hike in their electricity rates decided to take protest action over a five – day period and which would involve a march across the Wismar- Mackenzie Bridge.

The evidence clearly established that the bridge was blocked at several points both by persons and foreign material such as logs. Persons going about their lawful business were unlawfully denied access to the bridge and some were set upon and beaten.

The police in those circumstances had the obligation imposed by law to prevent that unlawful action from taking place and/or continuing.

It is noteworthy that a Member of Parliament who was at the scene when much of this was taking place or had already taken place stubbornly refused to accept that the protesters had resorted to unlawful means to carry out what would otherwise have been a lawful endeavour.

“To him the police ought not to have intervened because the protest was for a just cause. The justice of a cause seldom if ever justifies a breach of the Constitution and certainly in this situation we are of the view that, whilst we empathise with the citizens, resorting to unlawful means could not have been condoned by the police. What is of utmost importance is a consideration of whether the police acted appropriately in dealing with the situation.”

Use of force

The evidence revealed that police were being attacked by stones, missiles and other objects and in the circumstances the resort to tear gas proved ineffective. The next step was the resort to shotguns. ASP Todd stated his intention was to scare the protesters to leave the bridge.

In firing to the ground to take the velocity off in order to avoid injuries to the protesters would not have been unreasonable in using No.6 pellets but the use of the `00’ in the circumstances would not have been reasonable but would constitute excessive force.

The evidence adduced before the Commission disclosed that the required Proclamation was read before the use of firearms. The teargas was used prior to the discharge of the firearm. There were several requests made to the protestors to clear the bridge before resort was had to teargas and firearms.

The evidence of SS Hicken is that “from the 17th of July threats were being issued signalling that there would have been disturbances on the 18th.

The COI feels that the TSU should have been deployed at the bridge shortly after their arrival in Linden to take control and prevent its blockage; “Having regard to the information which Mr. Hicken said was available to him from at least the night before a full unit of the TSU should have been deployed; Based on the threats that were issued in the presence of the TSU and with Mr. Hicken in the vicinity, the TSU should not have been removed.”

Recommendations

The initial and indeed the subsequent action by the protestors could have been prevented had the police been proactive, the report stated and training related to crowd control needs to be re-visited and that junior and senior officers need to be the beneficiaries of this.

The police presence at the scene was clearly woefully inadequate and the attempt to take control of the scene at that late hour was inexplicable. There is a clear need for the revision of the use of force policy in order to adopt international best practices.

The Commissioners recommended that the government urgently implements the “Human Rights Standards and Practice for the Police” as developed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, New York and Geneva, 2004.

This should form an integral part of the recruit training programme, and for all ranks and officers ongoing carousel courses.

Compensation

The COI also recommended compensation for the estate of the three deceased, the injured and persons who suffered loss of property.
 
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