IMPACS: How long before delayed justice becomes injustice?

When on August 9, 1974 U.S. President Richard Nixon resigned he was facing almost certain impeachment and removal of office because of the Watergate scandal, in which he was charged with “misuse of presidential powers to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens, obstruction of justice, and failure to respond to House Judiciary Committee subpoenas.”

At the heart of the scandal was that on June 17, 1972 FBI and CIA agent James McCord and four other men working for the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) had broken into the Democratic Party’s Headquarters in the Watergate, a hotel-office building in Washington, D.C. They were caught going through files and attempting to plant listening devices. Five days later, Nixon denied any knowledge of the burglary or that his administration had played any role in it.

Seemingly without a care in the world, a beaming Prime Minister Kenny Anthony enjoys a recent moment of levity at Government House, flanked by House Speaker Peter Foster QC (left) and winner of Kenny gold for journalism Earl Bousquet.

Seemingly without a care in the world, a beaming Prime Minister Kenny Anthony enjoys a recent moment of levity at Government House, flanked by House Speaker Peter Foster QC (left) and winner of Kenny gold for journalism Earl Bousquet.

Evidence eventually surfaced that key documents linking the president to the cover-up of the break-in had been destroyed; that the Nixon reelection committee had run a “dirty tricks campaign” against the Democrats and that the administration had illegally wiretapped the phones of “enemies”—including journalists who had been critical of Nixon.

While Nixon continued to deny any involvement, it was revealed he routinely made secret tapes of conversations in his office. At first he refused to turn over the tapes and when he did agree, it emerged some of them were missing or had been destroyed. In the summer of 1974 the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against the President “for obstructing justice.”

Call it paranoia if you wish: many regular Saint Lucians take it for granted that their phones are illegally wiretapped. So do opposition politicians, their friends and relatives, not to mention local journalists who insist on doing their job to the best of their ability. Farfetched, you say? Tell that to the late Baje, one of the twelve casualties of alleged “gross violations of human rights.” Tell that to the government ministers, businessmen and, yes, cops fingered by Kenny Anthony’s IMPACS report. (By the way, I first encountered the late Baje at a Castries restaurant where he and a male companion were in deep conversation with a particular government minister. And that minister was not Richard Frederick!)

I say this yet again to remind readers that some Caribbean heads of government, if they held equivalent positions in the UK, the United States, China, Iran or Taiwan would’ve been hauled before various tribunals, at the very least, and, dependent on the result, imprisoned, their assets confiscated; or they would be forced to quit office. They might even have been publicly executed.

We need not revisit recent disasters involving leaders of our sister islands. Too often the most serious allegations go unanswered by fingered public officials. Consider our own prime minister’s role in the Grynberg saga (much of it admittedly still unknown to the majority of Saint Lucians); the Rochamel-Frenwell Affair; his secret appointment of a Saudi billionaire as our nation’s permanent representative at the IMO; the questionable decoration of a notorious Arab with our nation’s highest honor. Demonstrably, in this region leaders of government behave like ancient kings; monarchs of all they survey; accountable only to themselves.

Increasingly their demonstrated reluctance to rescue their respective broken justice systems, at the horrid expense of their own people as well as others from France, the UK and other overseas territories is becoming become a major headache for all people committed to human rights.

On March 8, 2015 this nation’s prime minister announced via TV that IMPACS had completed its investigation into “all instances of alleged extra-judicial killings by members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force”—undertaken at the behest of the prime minister himself. Moreover, that “the findings of the investigators [were] extremely damning.” He went on to reveal “these findings relate not only to those officers who were involved in [Operation Restore Confidence] but additionally members of the high command of the police force who may have been involved in covering up these matters.”

He said the report “confirms that the black list or death lists referenced by the media, human rights organizations, victims’ families and citizens alike did exist.” (Actually the prime minister alone, by his own admission, had seen this death list in 2011 “while in opposition.”) Alarmingly, said the prime minister, “the investigators report that all the shootings reviewed were fake encounters staged by the police to legitimize their actions . . . that the weapons supposedly found on the scene of the extra judicial killings were from sources other than the victims. The investigators say the weapons were planted on the scene of the shootings . . .”

Shortly before Christmas 2015, a visiting group of ambassadors concerned about the alleged illegal police shootings revealed at a press conference that they had expressed to the prime minister their disappointment with the lack of due process since the prime minister’s publication of his IMPACS report. They revealed, too, that the prime minister had given them his word that he would do everything possible to bring about a judicial resolution to the matter.

On January 15, 2016 the prime minister again addressed the nation via TV. He said his government had noted the expressed concerns of the United States Embassy as detailed in its press release of January 12, 2016. “While the embassy has quite rightly noted there has been no meaningful progress towards a criminal prosecution in the last ten months of those alleged to have committed extra judicial killings, the embassy’s suggestion that this is or was due to inaction on the part of the prime minister or the government of Saint Lucia is misplaced and unjustified.” He then proceeded to blame the delay of promised due process on the DPP.

Actually, the cited embassy press release included the following: “We respect Saint Lucia’s separation of powers but emphasize the entire government’s role in guaranteeing that each branch has the tools and resources to fulfill its commitments to the rule of law. That said, the Director of Public Prosecutions made a disappointing announcement in November, that her office was not provided sufficient resources or the report’s investigative files, thus precluding furthering criminal prosecution . . . We stand by our offer to assist Saint Lucia’s efforts to ensure due process in the framework of Saint Lucia’s criminal justice system.”

The release ended on the following ominous note: “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.”

In his New Year’s message on January 25 the prime minister seemed to have cast aside all earlier pledges concerning due process of the IMPACS issue. He said in a televised address that his “government has engaged the services of a firm of lawyers operating in Washington to represent us in discussions with officials of the State Department.”

He offered no details concerning the lawyers, leaving the impression, however discombobulating, that the engaged lobbyists would be seeking to persuade a change of attitude at the State Department toward the “alleged gross violations of human rights.”

Moreover, in a statement this week given exclusively to a local TV station, the prime minister acknowledged that an American company associated with his government’s CIP program had volunteered to engage a firm of Washington lawyers to perform a clean-up job, with State Department assistance, in pursuit of an overseas image more attractive to potential buyers of Saint Lucian citizenship. It turns out, dear reader, that nothing could be further from the truth. Stay tuned to this station.

Meanwhile, consider the following recently televised statement by Saint Lucia’s somewhat chameleonic prime minister: “In pursuit of justice law makers cannot permit themselves to be seen as law breakers!”

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