The US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Ambassador William R. Brownfield, has expressed regrets over the suspension of US economic and other assistance to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
Last year the US State Department blamed the suspensions on “credible allegations of gross violations of human rights,” first reported by this newspaper. Saint Lucia’s prime minister later confirmed our story, despite earlier denials by his Justice Minister Philip La Corbiniere.
“Do I regret we are in this position? Of course I do,” Brownfield told reporters last week.
Additionally: “I regret even more the actions and activities by some—by no means all—that have somehow contaminated the entire institution, and I hope we are able to work our way through this complicated set of issues.”
Not to have acted would have had adverse repercussions, not only the US, said Brownfield, but also on the people of Saint Lucia and the entire Caribbean.
He said the US is limited by law in terms of the cooperation it can offer law enforcement institutions where there are credible grounds for believing those institutions have engaged in gross human rights violations—including extra-judicial killings.
“This is not a matter of flexibility or discretion for us,” he said. “Once the determination is made, we are then required to suspend cooperation until such time as . . . evidence is clarified to the contrary, or the affected agency or organization has taken steps to clear up whatever activity may have caused the concern to begin with.”
IMPACS, a team which includes members of the Jamaican police force, itself with its own human-rights problems, has been conducting what the Saint Lucia government has described as an “independent investigation” into at least 12 suspected extra-judicial killings by local cops between 2010 and 2011.
Last August, in an address to the nation entitled “An Unhappy Episode,” Saint Lucia’s prime minister, whose Labour Party was returned to office two years ago, revealed that while in opposition he had seen “a hit list of targeted persons deemed to be criminals.”
He did not reveal the names listed, only that “in the aftermath of the launch of Operation Restore Confidence, some twelve persons met their deaths.”
Moreover: “When the killings occurred, a few in our midst protested; some, on the other hand, applauded and welcomed the seeming reduction in homicides. Others largely remained silent.”
Police Commissioner Vernon Francois has more than once stated there was never any such list.
In any case, during the 2011 election campaign it was strongly hinted by the then opposition that unnamed government ministers were well aware of—and may have supported—illegal activities by “an ad-hoc” group within the force. Some callers to Newsspin implied Operation Restore Confidence (a police initiative, similar to Operation Restore Peace in 1998) was merely an excuse to wipe out troublesome citizens and to harden up the government’s soft-on-crime image.
Although the government promised the IMPACS investigators would submit their report to the government in February 2014, it remains officially pending. Both Police Commissioner Vernon Francois, and Human Rights activist Mary Francis have complained that the dark cloud over the local police is expensive and counterproductive, and should’ve been lifted months ago.
On the other hand, the Justice Minister has suggested the lateness of the report is related to the thoroughness of the investigation, and unavoidable.
Meanwhile, in a radio interview last week, a police officer strongly expressed his concern over the copying by IMPACS personnel of hard drives from computers regularly used by high-ranking local cops, including Commissioner Francois. He said the IMPACS investigators had taken the hard drive copies with them to Jamaica, which he described as “a possible breach of national security among other things.”
Despite his statement during a short televised interview, reliable sources have informed The STAR that the Justice Minister has in his possession “a draft report” related to the IMPACS investigation!