PM seeks to clarify clear U.S. position on “gross human rights violations!”

Last Friday evening Saint Lucia’s prime minister delivered on TV what he referred to as a “clarification of the U.S. position on the matter of the prosecution of those alleged to have engaged in extra-judicial killings during the tenure of the former United Workers Party between 2010 and 2011.” On the premise it would “help the people of Saint Lucia and the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force better understand the position of the United States in this difficult and complex matter,” the prime minister welcomed the “clarification” of what, presumably, had earlier been confusing to the populace and their only protectors of lives and property.

Coming as it did several hours after last Thursday’s precedential press conference, during which three regional representatives of the EU’s twenty-eight member states had repeated their demand for due process for the suspects uncovered by the IMPACS investigation, I was especially curious to learn the details of the reported clarification of the U.S. government’s stated position on the “gross violations of human rights” allegedly committed by members of the RSLPF.

Left to right: French Ambassador Eric de La Moussaye, EU delegation head Mikael Barford and British High Commissioner Victoria Dean.

Left to right: French Ambassador Eric de La Moussaye, EU delegation head Mikael Barford and British High Commissioner Victoria Dean.

The latest communiqué from the U.S. Embassy in Barbados, issued on 12 January 2016—just two days before the EU delegation by invitation met privately with Saint Lucia’s prime minister—commended the government’s “initial step in 2014 by inviting IMPACS to conduct an investigation into allegations that members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed extra-judicial killings from 2010 to 2011.”

On the other hand, the Embassy had noted with concern that since the issuance of the IMPACS report in March 2015 “progress on pursuing justice in these killings” [of “twelve citizens deemed to be criminals,” according to the prime minister] had halted. Moreover, “despite the significance of the IMPACS report for human rights, national security concerns and Saint Lucia’s international reputation, the government of Saint Lucia has made no meaningful progress toward criminal prosecution in ten months.”

While the U.S. Embassy confirmed its respect for Saint Lucia’s “separation of powers” it nevertheless emphasized “the entire government’s role in guaranteeing that each branch has the tools and resources to fulfill its commitments to the rule of law.” The Embassy described as “disappointing news” the DPP’s recent public statement that her office had not been provided with the report’s investigative files and sufficient resources, “thus precluding further criminal prosecution.”

Also of particular concern to the U.S. Embassy was that “four years have passed since these violations of human rights first surfaced and due process is yet to be served.” The U.S. Embassy had repeated an earlier plea—echoed by the EU—for action on the part of the Kenny Anthony government: “A clear demonstration of the government of Saint Lucia’s commitment to the rule of law would benefit the people of Saint Lucia as well as Saint Lucia’s international standing as a trusted democratic partner in economic and security cooperation.” Additionally, that the Embassy repeated its willingness “to assist Saint Lucia’s efforts to ensure due process in the framework of Saint Lucia’s criminal justice system.” Similar assistance had more than once been offered by the EU that has set aside for such purpose some 44 million EUR.

It is worth recalling that as far back as 2013 the prime minister had informed the nation of the U.S. State Department’s hard position on the matter of those “gross violations of human rights” allegedly committed by the Saint Lucia police. In a televised address on August 13, the prime minister had stated: “When the provisions [of the Leahy Law] are scrutinized against the actions of the United States it becomes clear that the United States believes it has credible evidence that the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights.”

Has the U.S. changed its position since 2013? Referencing the related inquests that had followed the fatal shooting of twelve citizens, the prime minister added: “Since the United States has decided to impose sanctions on members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, then it is reasonably clear that it does not have confidence in the outcome of the inquests to bring those responsible for those killings to justice . . . Clearly, too, the presumption seems to be that the killings were unlawful [despite that the local coroner’s court had declared the exact opposite to be true!].”

Has the U.S. reconsidered this position? Has it lifted any of the sanctions? Has the U.S. developed new confidence in our justice system? Has the U.S. presumption indicated by the prime minister undergone a sea change? Finally the prime minister assured the nation that it was “in the interest of all concerned that the full facts of what occurred be disclosed . . .”

After that, not a related word from the prime minister—until two years later when he returned to the airwaves to share with the nation that his investigators had delivered to him an “extremely damning” report conceivably containing “the full facts.” Before passing on the report to the DPP, however, the prime minister announced during his televised address that his investigators had confirmed the existence of a “death list” that was widely bruited about, and which he had seen in 2011 while campaigning in opposition; that the then acting police commissioner had turned a blind eye to alleged “gross violations.” Perhaps even more shocking was the prime minister’s TV announcement that his chosen investigators had confirmed the implication of government officials and politicians as well as business people in Saint Lucia.

It has emerged that EU and U.S. Embassy personnel had monitored the minister’s 8 March 2015 address and what they heard on the occasion had moved them to demand with increasing impatience due process of justice for all concerned. So now, let us return to the prime minister’s statement of last Friday. Of particular interest to me is that he had said not a word, not a word, not a word about his private meeting a day earlier with the EU officials. For that matter, although he promised details of the clarification of the U.S. position, the closest he came to delivering was when he acknowledged “the U.S. Embassy has quite rightly noted there has been no meaningful progress towards a criminal prosecution in the last ten months of those who are alleged to have committed extra-judicial killings,” and that this was “due to inaction on the part of the prime minister.”

The suggestion, by the prime minister’s own defensive measure was “misplaced and unjustified.” On the contrary, “the executive’s role in this matter was fulfilled upon presentation of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security Report to the Director of Public Prosecutions ten months ago, in March 2015.” There is more to the immediately above than immediately meets the unjaundiced eye. In the first place, the U.S. State Department, that by the prime minister’s own account had entered the picture following “twelve potentially unlawful fatal police shootings, some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad hoc task force within the police department,” has always insisted on a proper investigation of the incident, followed by judicial prosecution.

So insistent was the State Department that when it appeared to them, three years following the suspect shootings, that the government was no longer interested in pursuing this issue that had been a hot topic during its 2011 election campaign they had resorted to sanctions under the Leahy Law: visa cancellations, suspension of funds to the police, denial of training opportunities inter alia.

Then there is this other undeniable fact: soon after the prime minister’s televised reading of the ostensibly classified IMPACS report, I had revealed via these columns my suspicion that we had heard the last of the matter, now that it had been sent to the notoriously inefficient DPP’s office for burial. It was never a secret that this most important government department has for years been denied adequate resources for properly carrying out its function of advising the police on criminal matters. And I mean, denied by successive administrations!

In his own defense the prime minister reminded his TV audience last Friday evening that the DPP had “herself publicly stated she never read the report until a full six months following her receipt of it.” Alas, contrary to what some lawyers seem to believe, half a truth is not nearly a fact. The irreducible truth is that the DPP had furnished the press with the reasons she had been unable to pay earlier attention to the IMPACS report, among them that there were close to 200 other matters that required her personal attention, some of them dating back several years. Besides, she had been given no reason to consider the report from the prime minister’s office particularly urgent. In any event, when finally she had some time during her vacation to study the report it had turned out to be loaded with assumptions, allegations of the worst kind, summaries, and most disturbing accusations—but with no evidentiary support.

The prime minister also suggested the DPP, before she set out on pre-retirement leave in December 2015, “never requested the government of Saint Lucia facilitate her interviewing the investigators whether in Saint Lucia or Jamaica.” More important is that the Police Complaints (Amendment) Act, under which the investigation was conducted, states at Section 18 (7): “Where in an investigation authorized by the Minister it appears to the investigator or lead investigator that there is prima facie evidence of criminal conduct, he or she shall transmit to the Director of Public Prosecutions all evidence, statements and other relevant materials arising from the investigation.”

The prime minister also informed his audience at home and abroad (doubtless there were among them State Department and EU personnel, not to mention human rights activists) that the Minister for National Security had “responded promptly and fully, debunking the DPP’s assertions.” The greater truth was that the following had been the minister’s response while being interviewed by RSL’s Shelton Daniel:

“She [the DPP] has indicated that the report contains certain material but that the important basis for that material—the witness statements and other evidentiary matters—are not contained in that report. Well, it could not be contained in that report. It would be highly improper and prejudicial to have any such matters contained in a report of this kind . . . It is not the usual type of situation where a particular citizen comes forward and makes a report to the complaints authority. When a report of this kind is given, it cannot include those statements because this is a document that could very easily have to go to the public in its entirety and perhaps partially. But either way, it is improper to have such material in a document. I will also say such information in a document would also prejudice the entire matter because there is something called a chain of custody . . .” There’s a whole lot more, all of it gibberish.

Never mind the prime minister’s statement on the evening of 8 March 2015 (in relation to the same report referenced by the Minister for National Security) that despite “the extreme gravity of this matter . . . the job of pursuing criminal charges is the preserve of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and it is she who will pronounce on the same once her actions are consistent with the Constitution,” yes, despite all of that, the government had chosen to withhold the evidence without which she could not carry out “the job of pursuing criminal charges”—according to the prime minister himself, “the preserve of the DPP!”

The prime minister, in his statement last Friday, seemed to agree with his Minister for National Security that if the DPP had no evidence supportive of the report before her she should have imagined the evidence was somewhere else and set out to hunt it down. Consider this statement taken from the earlier cited Security Minister’s interview with Shelton Daniel: “You have a look at the report and if in your considered view as DPP it raises preliminary concerns in your own mind that warrant further consideration, you are duty-bound to liaise and be in touch with the authorities that would enable you to process this matter in a proper manner.”

With regard to the immediately above, suffice it to say thank goodness our National Security Minister is not our Director of Public Prosecutions. But to return yet again to the prime minister’s last address. “The issue about prosecuting those who may have committed alleged criminal offenses has never been about resources.” How to explain, then, this earlier public statement that without assistance, financial and otherwise, the proper policing of our borders against drug and human trafficking, and the maintenance of our coast guard fleet would be almost impossible?

Indeed if money has never been a problem for the maintenance of law and order in our country, then why are we back-bending precariously to the demands of the Leahy Law? Why the undertaken “corrective steps” designed to return us to the State Department’s good books? To quote directly from the prime minister’s March 2015 address: “The stark reality we confront is that the United States will only lift those sanctions if in their judgment all corrective steps have been taken . . . If the sanctions are to be removed, we must show proof we are taking corrective steps to deal with the situation.”

What has always been abundantly clear is that as far as the United States and the EU are concerned, “corrective steps” had to involve the laying of charges against those suspected of having committed the particular “gross violations of human rights” and marching them before a court, to be judged according to the laws of Saint Lucia. Moreover, the prime minister’s hollow complaints notwithstanding, both the United States and the EU continue to insist on due process for those fingered by the prime minister’s IMPACS investigators. As indeed they have insisted from the outset. That much as never required clarification, whether or not welcomed by Saint Lucia’s prime minister!

As for the prime minister’s offer of a special prosecutor that he claims the DPP turned down: Of what use would be a special prosecutor if the evidence stipulated under the Complaints Act was—as the justice minister has confirmed—never furnished to the DPP? How was she to make a decision whether or not to prosecute? I am here reminded, by the way, that at her last press conference the DPP told reporters she had requested a deputy DPP and two senior counsels to deal with other pressing matters while she focused on the IMPACS report. Her request was evidently ignored!

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