By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — National security minister, Senator Hermangild Francis, has apparently come to the belated realisation that police officers accused of extrajudicial killings during the 2010/2011 Operation Restore Confidence (ORC) in Saint Lucia must be prosecuted if the sanctions imposed on the island’s security forces by the US under the so-called Leahy Law are to be lifted.
The operation led by the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) was conceived by the then United Workers Party (UWP) government to contain a violent crime wave but, following the operation, members of the RSLPF were accused of a number of extrajudicial killings that, in the absence of any official action to hold those responsible to account, eventually led to the US sanctions under federal law that prohibits foreign security forces credibly accused of human rights abuses from receiving US-sponsored assistance.
Eleven criminal suspects were allegedly killed by the police during Operation Restore Confidence but no one responsible for the killings has ever been prosecuted and, in fact, even inquests into the deaths also became delayed.
According to a report by Jamaican police officers under the aegis of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), commissioned by a subsequent Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration, “Investigators reported that all the shootings reviewed were ‘fake encounters’ staged by the police to legitimise their actions… weapons were planted on the scene of the shootings… and a number of the shootings were done by police officers but were listed in murder statistics as attributable to unknown assailants.”
Although Caribbean News Now has reported on several occasions that the US State Department has made it clear that the Leahy Law sanctions would only be lifted following credible prosecutions of those alleged to be responsible, the Saint Lucia government has persisted in an apparent denial of this reality, instead seemingly hoping that lobbying and discussions with the US embassy in Bridgetown would achieve the desired outcome.
However, this misguided belief failed to take into account that only the US Congress can now lift the sanctions, which is always going to be very unlikely to happen in the absence of the credible prosecutions insisted on by the State Department.
Francis now says that the decision to proceed with prosecutions was made after he spoke with the US undersecretary of defense and brought up the constraints the Leahy Law sanctions had on Saint Lucia.
“I told him everything that the government has done so far to show that we are serious about dealing with those matters,” he told local media. “And what I gathered was that the only thing that is going to suffice is that we have prosecution.”
He said the government is now working towards initiating prosecutions in the matter.
In yet another bizarre twist to this long-running saga, Francis has sought to shift the blame for the imposition of the Leahy Law sanctions on Saint Lucia onto local whistleblowers, instead of placing culpability squarely where it should remain: with the government ministers and police officials responsible for the debacle in the first place.
“The Americans were not the ones who came here to find any fact-finding mission or so on,” he stated. “It is us, Saint Lucians who actually called and gave information to the American State Department about what was happening, accusing certain ministers of government involving with criminals and police in that whole situation. So, we are the ones who actually put ourselves in that situation, and so we have to work extremely hard to get out of that situation.”
Meanwhile, Richard Frederick, a local attorney at law and former minister in the UWP government at the time of Operation Restore Confidence, has taken issue with what he described as a “burning desire” on the part of Francis to prosecute police officers accused of the extrajudicial killings in question.
“You know, there seems to be a desire to haul police officers before the courts,” Frederick said.
The former minister said he believes in justice but not at the expense of the innocent.
“Now folks I have said time and time again, and I will repeat, anyone, anyone, including me, anyone, if you’ve done the crime be prepared to do the time, full stop, full stop,” he said, adding, “But what I don’t agree with though, is that having someone to be taken before the court just for dragging them before the courts sake, or to have an innocent man being punished without justification, or for something he has not done.”
“…if there is evidence that any police officer did anything wrong, I would be the first to say let the chips fall where they may. Charge him or her like you would charge anybody else. If any police officer committed any crime and there is evidence and substantiation, he or she ought to be treated like an ordinary citizen. If any police officer took the lives of other citizens of this country without justification and there is evidence to substantiate that, jail them, take them before the courts and jail them,” he continued.
However, he went on to say that it appears in the ORC situation that “if there is no evidence, evidence has to be found somewhere”.
It is understood that a number of the RSLPF officers that may be at risk for prosecution in the ORC matter have approached Frederick with a view to retaining him to represent them in any court proceedings.