The killing of 12 persons by police officers between 2010 and 2011 under what was described then as “Operation Restore Confidence” is the reason behind the United States’ decision to disallow officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force from participating in training programmes arranged or financed by the United States.
This, along with the plans to deal with the issue, was announced by Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony during an address, entitled “An Unhappy Episode”, to the nation Tuesday night.
“Yesterday, I was also advised that the United States has gone one step further and suspended all assistance to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force,” Dr. Anthony noted.
The ban against St. Lucian police officers also includes Commissioner of Police Vernon Fancois, who was recently prevented from travelling to the United States to represent regional police commanders at a Conference of Black Police Officers in the United States.
“Contrary to speculation by some, I wish to make it clear that the US visa of the commissioner has not been revoked. This has been confirmed by the United States Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, Mr. Larry Palmer in a telephone conversation with me,” the prime minister pointed out.
To solve the issue, the prime minister said government has decided to take two steps.
He explained: “Firstly, the government has invited the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, IMPACS, to identify three senior investigators from the region to investigate the so called “extra-judicial” killings. The investigators will be asked to evaluate all available evidence and determine whether or not these matters warrant further action. The findings, if adverse, will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions who has ultimate jurisdiction in criminal matters.
“Secondly, Government will enact new legislation to conduct investigations of the type just proposed so as to ensure that such investigations enjoy the full protection of the law and that the findings of any investigation are lawfully transmitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This measure is needed to ensure that a mechanism exists to deal with such situations in the future, should such unexplained or suspicious deaths occur.”
BELOW IS THE FULL SPEECH OF THE PRIME MINISTER
AN UNHAPPY EPISODE: A STATEMENT BY HON. DR. KENNY D. ANTHONY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR FINANCE, ECONOMIC AFFAIRS, PLANNING & SOCIAL SECURITY
A PROMISE FULFILLED
A few days ago, I promised that I would issue a statement to address “the issues of concern and in particular, the reasons for the actions of the United States to disallow the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force from participating in training programmes arranged or financed by the United States.”
I address you tonight, in fulfillment of that promise.
I have heard those who have argued that a statement should have been made earlier by the Government and more particularly, by myself. 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.
It is 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. A solution has to involve all of the parties just mentioned.
I shall, therefore, try to be as simple and as clear as possible so that all can understand the issues.
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.”
This operation commenced with a dramatic speech to the nation by the former Prime Minister, Hon. Stephenson King, on May 30, 2010. The former Prime Minister warned criminals that “There will be no refuge, no stone will be left unturned and there will be no hiding place for anyone.”
In a further address to the nation on February 13, 2011, the former Prime Minister issued another warning to the criminals. He told them that,“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 for the crimes committed against our peace loving and law abiding people.”
Many would recall that there was, in circulation, a “hit list” of targeted persons deemed to be criminals. I recall that in opposition, I had seen such a list.
In the aftermath of the launch of “Operation Restore Confidence,” some twelve persons met their deaths. 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.
These killings, already described by some as “extra-judicial killings,” attracted the attention of the United States, in particular, that country’s State Department. In its Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011, the State Department noted that “there were twelve (12) potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year, some reportedly committed by officers associated with an adhoc task force within the police department.”
It is this issue which has pre-occupied the United States and which has led to the actions taken against the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
JUSTIFICATION BY THE UNITED STATES
Officials of the United States say that they have taken action against police officers because they are bound by a law enacted by the United States Congress. This law, popularly known as the “Leahy Law” is named after the law’s principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy of the state of Vermont. Essentially, this law says 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 a gross violation of human rights.” The law further states that the prohibition just mentioned “shall not apply”if the Secretary determines and reports…….that the government of such country is taking effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security unit to justice.” The law adds that:“in the event that funds are withheld from any unit…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.”
There is much more to this law but for our purposes these provisions would suffice.
When these provisions are scrutinized against the actions of the United States, it becomes clear that the United States believes it has “credible evidence” that the officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force committed gross violations of human rights.”
WHAT OUR LAWS SAY
From the foregoing, the question which should be asked is whether the Government of Saint Lucia has taken or is taking measures “to bring the responsible members” of the Police Force “to justice?” Of course, those so-called responsible members would first have to be identified.
More pointedly, what do our laws say when unexplained deaths occur?
Where unexplained killings occur, our law provides for coroners inquests to be conducted by a magistrate to determine, if possible, the cause of the death of the subject of the inquest. In the case of the twelve killings mentioned earlier, I am advised that six inquests have been held.The inquest into the five individuals who were killed in the police operation in Vieux Fort is underway but remains incomplete.
Of the six inquests which have been completed, the coroners returned verdicts of “death by lawful act.” One inquest, I have been advised, has been remitted for a new inquest.
Since the United States has decided to impose sanctions on members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force , then it is reasonably clear that it does not have confidence in the outcome of the inquests to bring those responsible for the killings to justice; that is, if there is a basis to do so. Clearly, too, the presumption seems to be that the killings were unlawful.
WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
As the Government said in a recent statement,“It is undeniable that it is in our vital interest to maintain close ties of co-operation with the United States in security matters.”
From its first few months in office, the Government has always understood the seriousness of this matter and its implications for the Police Force and indeed, the former UWP Political Directorate.
The Government of Saint Lucia moved quickly on two fronts. Firstly, recognizing that inquests take an inordinate amount of time to arrive at verdicts, the Attorney General took steps to expedite inquests by appointing additional coroners. This was done by the issuance and publication of Statutory Instruments No 58 of 2012 and No. 126 of 2012. Secondly, the Government of Saint Lucia requested the United States to conduct polygraphs or what is often described as “lie detector tests” for senior officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
I am advised that over forty Gazetted officers and inspectors have undergone these tests but only one, so far, has failed. In every case, these officers were asked about their involvement and or knowledge of the alleged “extra- judicial killings”. They were also questioned about possible involvement in drugs and corrupt practices and behaviour.
The tests are not over. The Government will also permit the polygraph tests to extend to other ranks, the Special Services Unit as well as other officers assigned to other units of the force. It is now the policy of this Government that no officer would be promoted to the rank of a Gazetted Officer unless that officer submits to a polygraph test.
In passing, I should emphasize that while these tests are very helpful in arriving at decisions regarding promotions and appointments, they are of no value in our courts of law. Indeed, even in the United States, their admissibility is not automatic and is decided on a case by case basis subject to the discretion of the presiding judge who is bound by strict legal guidelines. In Saint Lucia, they may provide evidence of one kind or other but the evidence has no probative value. In other words, the Director of Public Prosecution cannot rely on any evidence obtained as a result of the polygraphing of police officers. So, merely polygraphing police officers is not a solution to the issues which we face.
IMPACT ON THE FORCE
So far, the United States has disallowed several officers from proceeding on further training or participating in programmes organised or funded by the United States. This action, as you know, included the Commissioner of Police, who was recently prevented from travelling to the United States to represent regional police commanders at a Conference of Black Police Officers in the United States. Contrary to speculation by some, I wish to make it clear that the US Visa of the Commissioner has not been revoked. This has been confirmed by the United States Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, Mr. Larry Palmer in a telephone conversation with me.
Yesterday, I was also advised that the United States has gone one step further and suspended all assistance to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
I have to admit that the conduct of this exercise has not been easy for the members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. It has pitted officer against officer, led to “finger-pointing,” accusations and counter accusations. The decision has undoubtedly undermined the morale of the Police Force and tarnished its reputation.
Our Police Officers cannot, for example, participate in any programme of training in the Regional Security Services (the RSS) once it is funded or organized by the United States. This has led to considerable speculation among members of the units from other member states.
Clearly, this is not a happy situation.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Where then do we go from here?
The Government of Saint Lucia is clear that the speculation about these so called “extra-judicial killings” must be brought to an end. It is in the interest of all concerned that the full facts of what occurred be disclosed, not only to satisfy the United States but,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. In all of this, no matter how we may feel about those who met their deaths, we cannot ignore the pain and anguish of the families of the victims. They too need closure.
The fundamental issue is whether these killings were pre-meditated or occurred in the lawful execution of the duties of the officers involved? To help to bring resolution to this unhappy episode, the Government has taken two further steps.
Firstly, the Government has invited the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, IMPACS, to identify three senior investigators from the region to investigate the so called “extra-judicial” killings. The investigators will be asked to evaluate all available evidence and determine whether or not these matters warrant further action.
The findings, if adverse, will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions who has ultimate jurisdiction in criminal matters.
Secondly, Government will enact new legislation to conduct investigations of the type just proposed so as to ensure that such investigations enjoy the full protection of the law and that the findings of any investigation are lawfully transmitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This measure is needed to ensure that a mechanism exists to deal with such situations in the future, should such unexplained or suspicious deaths occur.
A MESSAGE TO THE FORCE
As I said earlier, I am fully aware that this is an exceedingly anxious period for the men and women of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. Some criminals may well feel that this is a moment to strike to undermine the excellent work that has been done over the past few months. I urge the police to remain calm but firm, vigilant, steadfast and uncompromising in the fight against crime in our country. The criminals in our midst must not be given any solace or sympathy.
Meanwhile, I wish to reassure our citizens that the Government will continue to work closely with the United States to resolve this issue and on security matters generally, in much the same way that we have done over the past few years. Saint Lucia values its close co-operation with the United States in security matters because without this understanding and co-operation our, borders can never be secure.
When this is over, there can be little doubt that a monumental task will confront us to restore confidence and cohesiveness to the Force. At times like these, speculation will be rife but we must follow the rule of law as enshrined in our Constitution. There can be no other way. We now reap the harvest of rash decisions, particularly by policy makers anxious to gain quick resolutions. Sadly, the reality is that we must tread cautiously in these times, but resolutely and boldly as well. And so, while we still have a cloud of uncertainty above the officers and members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, we must not pander to populist views, but rather, we must follow due process as the rule of law commands us. We must do this not for the Americans but for ourselves.
My Government will remain fully committed to the maintenance of the law and order, by all citizens, irrespective of their position or status, civilian or otherwise.
I thank you and good night.
May God bless each and every one of you.