How revealing, not to say ironic, that for several years now we have relied exclusively on the U.S. State Department for vital information concerning governance in our region, particularly in Saint Lucia.
Year after year the media have naively quoted without question the findings of the department’s Country Reports on Human Rights practices, as if indeed they had been written by the same hand that had delivered certain stone tablets to Moses, no matter that U.S. Intelligence had proven time after time to be less than reliable—whether related to Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction or to the Boston Marathon bombing that claimed three lives and left scores without arms and legs.
On the rare occasion when someone had commented on the State Department’s Human Rights Report he or she was usually a local politician or a mindless party hack desperate to score off the number of murders, rapes and other heinous crimes committed in the time of one particular administration or another.
As I say, conceivably because of the source’s perceived impeccability the annual State Department human rights bulletins have been treated as gospel on both sides of our political divide—until last week, that is, when Timothy Poleon zeroed in on certain aspects of the 2012 report, curiously headed “Diplomacy in Action.”
I was reminded of Hans Christian Anderson’s story about an emperor who was duped into forking out a ton of gold to con artists that promised in return “to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality.” When finally the emperor was dressed up in his super-fine gold suit that he dared not admit he couldn’t see, he allowed himself to be persuaded to appear before his subjects at a public event. Naturally, all who saw him loudly rhapsodized at the wonder of the emperor’s new clothes, despite what their eyes told them, for they were afraid to appear stupid and incompetent—until finally a child went up to the emperor’s carriage.
“The emperor is naked,” he said.
“Fool!” his father reprimanded, running after him. “Don’t talk nonsense!” He grabbed his child and took him away. But bystanders had overheard the boy’s remark. Now they cried over and over again: “The boy is right! The emperor is naked! It’s true!”
The emperor silently agreed but could not admit to that. He thought it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. He stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.
Mary Francis is no virgin when it comes to fighting for human rights. For several years, despite persistent ignorant public abuse, she had remained, so to speak, on the case. But last week marked the first time she actually declared the emperor naked, the emperor being the State Department’s Human Rights Report. Mary did not actually say the report was a canard that better serves U.S. purposes than it does the region. No, she did not outright say so, but she was astute and subtle and bold enough to tell her Newsspin interviewer there was nothing in the 2012 report that we didn’t already know. Moreover, that we knew a whole lot more about the incidents covered than did the State Department.
Mary was absolutely correct. The State Department is primarily concerned with accounting to U.S. taxpayers that fund supposedly democratic foreign governments that ostensibly permit free expression, free movement, and respect the rule of law.
There is no State Department information office in Saint Lucia, so far as I can tell. The information published in its annual human rights reports is given them, by their own account, by local public servants that may or may not be prejudiced—officials whose primary interest may not necessarily be good governance. Indeed, some misguided public servants and regular citizens actually believe it’s okay for the police to wipe out suspected criminals, thereby saving taxpayers the expense of costly investigations and prosecutions that might not deliver anticipated results.
Here then, some of the self-serving items in the 2012 Human Rights and Practices report: “The most serious human rights problems included long delays in investigating reports of unlawful police killings, abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, and continued postponements and sentencing. Other human rights problems included violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination against persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
This one is especially revealing, albeit extremely diplomatic: “Although the government took some steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses, the procedures for investigating police officers was lengthy, cumbersome and often inconclusive. When the rare cases reached trial years later, juries often acquitted, leaving an appearance of de facto impunity.”
Then there is this doozy: “The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, there were four fatal police shootings during the year, compared with 12 in 2011 . . . There was only limited progress in coroner’s inquests and other investigations of police homicides dating back to 2007. In an attempt to expedite investigative processes and review cases more broadly, the government named all magistrates as coroners and gave them the authority to conduct coroner’s inquests. Authorities [?] reported that two of four inquests from 2010, two of three from 2009, and two of three from 2008 remained pending in the coroner’s inquest process. The trial of a police officer charged with manslaughter by recklessness in the 2008 fatal shooting of John Garvy Alcindor began in late 20111 and the trial continued at year’s end.”
There was no mention of cold cases dating back to 1997 and earlier!
As Mary Francis nicely informed a Newsspin reporter, there is nothing in the above about which we are not better informed than the State Department. Then again, I say that, but it is yet another U.S. entity—the Department of State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee—that has been pressuring the present government, as it had its predecessor, to furnish answers for several suspect police homicides dating back to 2006. (In her most recent Throne Speech Dame Pearlette Louisy acknowledged 400 homicides over the last decade!)
An overview of the Leahy Vetting Process indicates what is supposed to happen when credible information that an individual or unit has committed a gross violation of human rights: “U.S. assistance is withheld.”
Recently, the justice minister here sought very gingerly to reassure a concerned Saint Lucian public—via an egregiously uninformed and out-of-his-depth TV-news reporter—that all was well with the nation’s security, that U.S. funding for special operations continued to flow as usual.
The question put to him by the reporter had been inspired by a STAR report that U.S. assistance to the special operations unit of the SSU had been withdrawn under the Leah law, possibly in relation to what the police had insisted were casualties of gang warfare—but was seen in a different light by the U.S. State Department. While the justice minister claimed there had been no interruption of U.S. funds, he nevertheless revealed without elaborating a government initiative to “rid the force of undesirables.”
Undesirables? What in hell did the justice minister mean by that? Was he acknowledging individuals on the force who carried on like “criminals in police uniforms?” Might he have referred to the same people that during the 2011 election campaign the then opposition party had described as the government’s hit men, hired to wipe out known trouble makers in a deadly attempt not to appear before the electorate as soft on crime?
Could he have been referring to particular members of special police units about whom the Department of State had incessantly complained? Whoever the minister had in mind, the point to remember is that he had openly acknowledged last Friday the existence of “undesirables” on a force that exists to serve the people by protecting our lives and property—in accordance with our constitution.
Why is the government pussyfooting around this dangerous situation? Why do its representatives speak only in riddles whenever the integrity of the force is the subject?
Speaking of the Leahy vetting process, this is how it operates: “The appropriate U.S. embassy enters those individuals or units nominated for training or assistance into an internal DoS database, called the International Vetting and Security Tracking system, and initially vets the individuals or units using governmental, nongovernmental and media resources on human rights abuses in the relevant country.
“These records include the DoS Country Reports on Human Rights [treated by the local media as holy writ], U.S. government agency records, including consular records and embassy files and databases, NGO human rights reports and information and media articles. Most embassies also undertake checks with local police and government for other derogatory information. In appropriate cases, embassies may interview individual victims where there are indications that government forces have been involved in gross human rights violations.
“Should any credible derogatory information be uncovered in local vetting, the embassy may deny or suspend the individual or unit from assistance, or seek guidance from Washington. INVEST creates a permanent record of any finding of derogatory information, human rights-related or otherwise, and posts upload the specific information for further review as the vetting process continues.”
Moreover: “The Department determines if derogatory information is credible on a case-by-case basis. For information to be deemed ‘credible’ it is not required to meet the same standard as would apply to admit evidence in a U.S. court of law, but consideration is given to the source, the details available, the applicability to the individual or unit, the circumstances in the relevant country, the availability of corroborating information, and others.”
Does any of the above ring a bell? It should, seemingly reminiscent as it is of events preceding the last general elections and soon afterward. According to Section 620M of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961: “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
The prohibition in the above subsection “shall not apply if the Secretary determines and reports to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and the Committees on Appropriations that the government of such country is taking effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.”
Might suspending a suspect officer with pay or transferring him at a higher salary meet the above requirement?
“In the event that funds are withheld from any unit pursuant to this section, the Secretary of State shall promptly inform the foreign government of the basis for such action and shall, to the maximum extent practicable, assist the foreign government in taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces to justice.”
Shortly following the last general elections, a leading police officer was among others sent on accumulated leave. Perhaps it was mere coincidence that the U.S. embassy had only a short time earlier revoked his visa. If any members of the force have been fingered in connection with homicide, none has so far been brought to justice.
The following from the cited document makes particularly interesting reading when connected with the above: “The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, there were four fatal shootings during the year, compared with 12 in 2011.” Sounds like a non sequitur doesn’t it? Or are we missing something between the lines that only the DoS knows?
What about the following? “The constitution prohibits such practices but prisoners and suspects regularly complained of physical abuse by police and prison officers. There also were reports that police beat persons under arrest, either during the arrest or while in custody at the initial detention center prior to arrival at the prison.
“During the year citizens filed a number of complaints against the police, most of which were of abuse of authority. Limited information was available regarding official investigations of complaints pending in various stages of review from earlier years. The DPP is responsible for filing charges in such cases but was unable to monitor their progress due to limited resources and manpower. Although the government sometimes asserted that it would launch independent inquiries into allegations of abuse, the lack of information created a perception of impunity for the accused officers.”
Put succinctly, the public perception in Saint Lucia is that our police department operates with impunity, however unconstitutionally. Recently the U.S. embassy set up a training program for the special operations department of the local police force. But first they wanted the names of participants for the purposes of the State Department’s International Vetting and Security Tracking system.
Clearly, the Department also believes perception is everything!