There have been few pronouncements by the leader of the previous administration more ominous, haunting, and yes, scarier, than his casually delivered pre-election prediction that “whoever forms the next government will have to deal with the IMPACS Report.” He, more than anyone else, knows what’s at the heart of the human rights time bomb and why—despite several offers of EU and U.S. State Department assistance—he had refused for close to five years to spare this nation further possible consequences of his inexplicable mule-headedness.
His above-quoted words, whether bellowed from the steps of the Castries market or through a camera lens that resembled nothing more than the barrel of a shoulder-mounted grenade launcher, suggested IMPACS might be booby-trapped—and best sidestepped. He had also reminded his opposition that IMPACS connundrum could not, as obviously he had discovered, solve itself; that nothing short of the prosecution of those suspected of “gross human rights violations” in 2010-2011 would “satisfy the Americans.”
The allegation was that during the mentioned period members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force had prepared a list of citizens marked for death. No less than the former prime minister and at the time of the suspect killings leader of the opposition had, by his own public admission, “seen such a list” of citizens “deemed to be criminals,” a dozen of whom had engaged the police in armed conflict and paid the supreme price. It remains classified precisely how the American government entered the picture but enter it did, as evinced by an entry in the State Department’s 2012 Country Report concerning a number of “potentially unlawful police killings” in Saint Lucia.
It is also conjectural why the prime minister who returned to office in 2011 had waited until August 2013 to acknowledge the suspension of funds and other assistance previously afforded the local police under the Leahy Law arrangements. Moreover, that the action was based on the suspected extrajudicial executions earlier mentioned, despite that the alleged perpetrators had been cleared by a local coroner’s court.
The way the prime minister told it in his 2013 televised address to the nation, it had seemed to him the State Department had no faith in our justice system; otherwise the U.S. government would have resumed its normal relationship with the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. He added that the much-needed economic and other U.S. assistance would be denied the RSLPF until the government took “corrective steps.”
The corrective steps the government took in 2013 included amendments to the Police Complaints Act and (with assistance from the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security) the recruitment of Jamaican police personnel to investigate several deaths that had occurred at the time of Operation Restore Confidence.
IMPACS describes itself as the nerve center of the region’s new multilateral crime and security management architecture, specially designed to administer a collective response to the crime and security priorities of member states, under the directives of, and with reporting responsibility to the Council of Ministers for National Security and Law Enforcement. The agency’s core functions include “the implementation of actions agreed by the council relating to crime and security . . . advising the council on appropriate regional responses to crime and security arrangements on the basis of research analysis . . . the execution of regional projects relating to matters of crime and security and providing a clearing house for relevant information in matters relating to crime and security.”
By official account the local office of the Director of Public Prosecutions was never involved in the government-initiated IMPACS initiative—at any rate, not until a year following the investigation and only after the prime minister had read on-air what he claimed it had uncovered. The DPP later revealed the report, while it contained several serious allegations, disturbing accusations, over thirty recommendations and observations, offered no evidentiary support that would stand up in a Saint Lucian court of law. As if further to complicate matters, the justice minister acknowledged during a radio interview that the government had calculatingly held back evidence it considered “too sensitive” to be entrusted to the DPP’s office. A few days after the minister’s shocking disclosure the prime minister further chided the DPP for not requesting from him whatever was missing from the IMPACS report he had handed her. He said the “planted guns” and other evidence of illegal police activity were off island, in the custody the IMPACS investigators. By all accounts they remain in Jamaica.
Before the June 6 elections that placed the Allen Chastanet administration in office, the EU and the State Department issued several press releases underscoring their concern about the prime minister’s apparent reluctance to place the result of his investigation before the courts. As for the new prime minister, while campaigning he had promised to resolve the IMPACS issue within a hundred days of assuming office. Sadly, it appears matters deemed more pressing have redirected his focus. But the unforgettable words of the former prime minister continue to haunt the nation: Whoever forms the next government will have to deal with IMPACS!
Consider the following, featured in Monday’s online Caribbean News Now: “In his efforts to extricate Saint Lucia from sanctions imposed by the United States as a result of still unresolved allegations of extra-judicial killings by the local police, new prime minister Allen Chastanet has been caught in a ‘tangled web’ of unrealistic promises.” The quoted statement was attributed to the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party.
As if convinced a falsehood can be made true by constant repetition, the cited SLP’s statement went on: “Prime Minister Chastanet has now been caught in a tangled web as a very direct result of his calculated efforts to make unrealistic promises to the police force and the public at large.”
Did Chastanet actually make the undisclosed “unrealistic promises” to the police and the rest of the nation or did he merely attempt to do so, albeit calculatedly? The online story claimed it was the former government minister Richard Frederick’s expressed opinion that the DPP’s hands were tied because related inquests had determined the police killings “were justified.”
New to me was the CNN revelation that last month the U.S. had issued yet another press statement “that made it clear to the new government in Saint Lucia that the on-going failure to bring to justice those responsible within the local police force for gross violations of human rights prevents the U.S. from reconsidering the sanctions imposed on the RSLPF under the Leahy Law.”
Additionally (and by now common knowledge), that the State Department had declared: “We have made it clear to the current and prior administrations that the government of Saint Lucia’s failure to bring justice to those responsible within the RSLPF for gross violations of human rights through credible judicial processes and prosecutions, where appropriate, prevents the United States from reconsidering the suspension of assistance to the RSLPF.”
The CNN article also claims the new Saint Lucian PM had made “a controversial courtesy call” on U.S. Ambassador Linda Taglialatela in Barbados, at which time he had announced plans to establish a tribunal comprising members from the EU, the U.S. and Britain “to look into the matter and present a road map moving forward.” (Shortly after the most recent elections the PM’s imagined “special tribunal” comprised three or four judges!) Recalling an SLP press release, CNN went on: “Clearly this was not the approach promised members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police
Force by the UWP before and during the general election campaign.”It’s anyone’s guess what the unidentified CNN contributor meant by “many in Saint Lucia regard as poetic justice,” the UWP government being confronted with the difficulty of resolving “a seemingly intractable problem it created in the first place some five years ago.” What was the “intractable problem” that the UWP created? Alas that too is conjectural. And while we’re at it, what exactly was the pre-election promise that allegedly had turned the whole police force, newly recruited and long-serving, to move away from the SLP in favor of the UWP?
The SLP has always sought, without the smallest evidence, to make the suspected extrajudicial killings a calculated aspect of Operation Restore Confidence. The classified IMPACS report itself, say those who’ve read it, does not establish any such link. And even if the investigation had uncovered proof of such a connection, why then has the matter still not come before a judge and jury? To have done so back in 2015 might conceivably have left the SLP without opposition at election time!
Finally two CNN pronouncements: Former prime minister Stephenson King “must presumably bear ultimate responsibility for the ORC fall-out”; Guy Mayers, rumored to be the island’s next High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, has led “many to speculate that this may be an obvious ploy to confer on him diplomatic immunity from prosecution in relation to the alleged extra-judicial killings.”
The local justice system has since last December been without a Director of Public Prosecutions. According to the former prime minister, who had to have known precisely Victoria Charles’ retirement date and the need to engage a replacement, no one suitable had applied for her position. The popular perception is that potential candidates are in no great hurry to confront the political Rosemary’s Baby that IMPACS represents.
To return to my opening paragraph and the inescapable irony in the former PM’s predication: Allen Chastanet may have inherited the Sisyphean stone known as IMPACS. But that does not mean it has been removed from his predecessor’s neck.
No matter how you cut it, engaging the Jamaican investigators was indisputably a Kenny Anthony decision, aided and abetted by IMPACS. Until his 2013 employment of the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security as one of his “corrective steps” toward a court conclusion acceptable to the U.S. State Department, few in Saint Lucia had heard of the CARICOM group.
Final questions: What are the corrective options open to the new prime minister? Will he stand by the verdict of the coroner’s court that had declared lawful the actions of the police in relation to “certain citizens deemed to be criminals”—regardless of U.S.-EU repercussions? Will he cause the attorney general to reopen those inquests in the face of “compelling new evidence?” Will the new prime minister prove too scared to tread where his predecessor had rushed in? Or will he accept a made-in-the-USA resolution that somehow permits him to hang on to his job and his personal safety?