Last year the prime minister was so shook up about the fallout from the US State Department’s fast deteriorating relationship with the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force—and the officially acknowledged concomitant threats to Saint Lucia—that he made it the subject of a lengthy televised Address to the Nation.
Earlier his Justice Minister Philip La Corbiniere had publicly denied a STAR report that the US State Department had ceased providing funds and other assistance to our cops—as punishment for what was euphemistically referred to as “violations of human rights involving the police.”
It was hardly classified information that the State Department’s concern centered on several suspicious deaths, most of them officially dismissed here as casualties of drug-fueled gang warfare. The US authorities—based on their own investigations— were especially interested in the proper resolution of a dozen or so homicides in the weeks leading up to the 2011 elections, widely described here as “extra-judicial executions.”
Indeed, it was not uncommon then to hear well-known opposition-party activists abusing Newsspin’s facilities as they leveled not-so-subtle, altogether unsubstantiated accusations at the day’s government. Some went as far as to suggest Operation Restore Confidence was merely a poorly camouflaged government-sponsored device by which to wipe out troublesome citizens. It need also be stated that many citizens openly applauded every homicide associated with the police campaign.
When word exploded in the public domain that a certain MP had suffered the loss of his US visa and diplomatic status, the unofficial reason was that he had been too close to the deadly activities associated with Operation Restore Confidence. The day’s prime minister sought to defend the MP, only to be dubbed “de lyin’ King!”
Said the current prime minister on the evening of August 20, 2013: “As I have explained, this matter is exceedingly delicate and complex. It involves several parties: the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, the United States government, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and, most importantly, the citizens of our country.”
As if seeking to make up for his justice minister’s earlier denial, the prime minister acknowledged it was of “little value to make a statement to confirm what is already in the public domain without providing some indication of how the government plans to resolve the issues which confront us.”
But first there was the back story: “The current events have their origin in the twelve individuals who were shot and killed by police officers between 2010 and 2011, during the tenure of the government of the United Workers Party. Those killings occurred after the former government launched what was then described in the media and elsewhere as Operation Restore Confidence.”
He cited a line from the previous prime minister’s address at the May 30, 2010 launching of the police operation: “There will be no refuge, no stone left unturned and there will be no hiding place for anyone.”
As if he were prosecuting a criminal case, the prime minister cited another address by his predecessor, delivered on 13 February 2011, again referencing the nation’s criminals: “They will be hunted down, they will be found, they will be prosecuted, they will be judged and will be made to pay the consequences of their crimes committed against our peace-loving, law-abiding citizens.”
Then the prime minister fired off a real shocker. He recalled that while in opposition he had been presented with a hit list that was “in circulation.” He neglected to say who had delivered the listed names of the walking dead. Neither did he say the number that had been liquidated. Only that “in the aftermath of Operation Restore Confidence some twelve persons had met their deaths . . .” and “some had welcomed the seeming reduction in homicides while others remained silent.”
For his own reasons the prime minister revealed the twelve killings had “attracted the attention” of the US State Department. How could they not have, when for several weeks they had been the focus of callers to Newsspin, not a few of them well known party activists?
Backed up by the State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011, the prime minister informed the nation “there were twelve potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year, some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad hoc task force within the police department.” In common parlance, a police death squad. Might they have been the authors of the hit list that the prime minister had seen with his own eyes when still in opposition?
When he arrived at that part of his speech relating to US funds and our police, the prime minister cited the Leahy Law that “the United States shall not furnish any assistance to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.”
The prime minister went on: “When these provisions are scrutinized against the actions of the United States, it becomes clear that the United States believes members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights. [My italics]
He revealed the United States had “disallowed several officers from proceeding on further training or participating in programs organized by the US.” Moreover, he had been advised that “the United States has gone one step further and suspended all assistance to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force . . . the decision has undoubtedly undermined the morale of the police force and tarnished its reputation.”
Additionally: “The government is clear the speculation about these extra-judicial killings must be brought to an end. It is in the interest of all concerned that that the full facts of what occurred be disclosed, not only to satisfy the United States but, more importantly, to clear those officers whose reputations are at risk. In the final analysis the citizens of Saint Lucia must have confidence in those who are charged with law enforcement.”
He remembered the families of the possible victims of the earlier cited gross violation of human rights. “They too need closure,” the prime minister said, his eyes soft as a baby rabbit’s. He took the opportunity to announce the government had invited IMPACS to identify three senior investigators from the region to investigate the so-called extra-judicial killings.”
At his last appearance on the Castries market steps, the prime minister uncharacteristically acknowledged that the force would have a hard time protecting us and bringing criminals to justice if the US persists in current attitude. We can’t survive without help from the United States, he said.
Oh, yes, he did!
A short time earlier he had informed the nation that the IMPACS investigation was underway with a report expected to be in the government’s hands by the end of February 2014. That promise, like so many before it, remains undelivered. So it was with much interest that I listened to what the Justice Minister (who earlier had denied what the prime minister eventually confirmed) might have to say in answer to a TV reporter’s question about the status of IMPAC’s all-important assignment.
His demeanor was as unsettling as his non-answer: “You would expect if you do an investigation of this kind there will be some stresses and some strains that develop. And so what we have to do is to ensure that as we complete this investigation we take it forward in a way that allows for us to improve on the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force in a positive way.
“Engaging them on this process of ensuring that we can tighten on the oversight for the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, that we can work towards ensuring that we have better systems, stronger systems in place at all levels to ensure
that operationally we have the kind of police that we want to see being able to respond to the challenges of Saint Lucia as we move forward over the next few years.”
He ended with the expressed hope that the report will be important for “the healing process within the police force.”
Additionally, “the public will be updated on the findings when it is appropriate to disclose the information.”
Not one word about the alleged “gross violations of human rights violations,” the hit list that the prime minister himself had seen with his own eyes (and did not report its existence to the authorities), not a word about the twelve murders of which police officers have been accused.
Then again, who knows how deeply rooted is the rot in our justice system!