THE long awaited address by Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony on the IMPACS investigation into the conduct of the Royal St. Lucia Police Force was delivered this past Sunday. Because of the important nature of that statement and the whole issue dealing with the Police Force, THE VOICE is publishing the entire address by the Prime Minister, unedited. The second and final part will be published on Thursday.
INTRODUCTION: A DIFFICULT ISSUE
Fellow Saint Lucians, citizens, ladies and gentlemen, good evening to one and all!
In all the years that I have had the honour to serve you as Prime Minister, the issues on which I am about to address you, have been among the most challenging and difficult. This is so for three reasons. Firstly, they call for extremely tough, courageous but necessary decisions. Secondly, the matters in question have tarnished the reputation of our country and brought considerable dishonour to our Police Force both at home and abroad. Thirdly, the issues touch a raw nerve, our battle against crime, violence and lawlessness in our midst. It is therefore, ironic that I am addressing you on this subject at this juncture, when, for the first time in more than a decade, we have not had a homicide in January or February.
All of this will be better understood if I place the issues in their proper context. In so doing, I will have to repeat some information which was the subject of a previous address to you on August 30, 2014. This is necessary not simply to remind you of the facts of the matter but equally to help you to better appreciate the complexity of the problem that faces us.
First, let me remind you of the background which brought us to this point.
During the period between 2008 and 2010, Saint Lucia experienced an unprecedented wave of homicides and violent crimes, particularly in the northern half of the island. Our citizens were deeply disturbed by these horrific crimes and the seeming helplessness of our law enforcement agencies to bring them under control.
On May 30th, 2010, in an address to the nation, former Prime Minister Stephenson King launched what became known as “Operation Restore Confidence”, ostensibly to restore confidence in the Police Force and to provide a safer environment for the citizens of Saint Lucia. 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.”
The former Prime Minister announced the formation of a Special Task Force of Police Officers and a change in the command structure of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. The Commissioner of Police, Mr.Ausbert Regis was transferred, albeit unlawfully, and replaced by Assistant Commissioner of Police for Crime, Mr. Vernon Francois, initially in an acting capacity. Mr. Francois was subsequently confirmed in his position by my administration. Several other appointments were made but for the purposes of this address it is not necessary to mention them here.
The Task Force quickly became fully operational. It was placed under the direct command of the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Mr. Moses Charles.
When these decisions were taken, ministerial responsibility for the Police was assigned to the former Minister of Home Affairs, Senator Guy Myers who briefed the public on the changes effected by his Government.
Between 2010 and 2011, twelve persons met their deaths following encounters with officers of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. The largest number of the civilian casualties occurred in the Castries Basin, allegedly during the execution of duly authorized search warrants.
These deaths attracted the attention of the United States of America, among others. In their Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia for 2011, the US State Department reported, among other things, that “the most serious human rights problems included reports of unlawful police killings” [Page 1]. The same Report added that there were “12 potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year.”[Page 1]
APPLICATION OF LEAHY LAW
Consequent on the State Department’s Report, the United States Government proceeded to apply to Saint Lucia what has come to be widely known as the “Leahy Law.” There are three key provisions of this law, appearing in different Acts, all of which are of concern to us.
The first states that “ No assistance shall be furnished … 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.”[Section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended].
The second goes on to say, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to support any training program involving a unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of Defense has received credible information from the Department of State that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken.”[DOD Appropriations Act for FY 2012(Div. A, P.L.112-74), Sec.8058.]
The third provision states that where 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.” [Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, section 620M.]
Upon application of these foregoing provisions, the United States ceased all financial and technical assistance to our Coast Guard. This meant that the Government of Saint Lucia was now solely responsible for the maintenance of its Coast Guard Fleet. Other sanctions soon followed. The Government of Saint Lucia could not purchase ammunition from the United States for its American made weapons. Members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force could no longer participate in any training programme sponsored or financed by the United States. Our Police Officers were also denied participation in training activities in the Regional Security System (RSS), our own regional organization, once the training programme was sponsored or financed by the United States.
There were still more consequences. The visa of the former Deputy Commissioner of Police, Moses Charles was revoked. It is to be recalled that he was in charge of Operations when the alleged “extra judicial killings” took place. Further, though the visa of the Commissioner of Police, Vernon Francois, was not revoked he was nonetheless denied entry to the United States even to attend security meetings with officials of the United States.
The stark reality we confront is that the United States will only lift those sanctions if in their judgment “all necessary corrective steps have been taken.” The fact remains that for a tainted unit or member of such a unit to become eligible for training again, the Secretary of State must determine and report to the United States Congress that the Government of the affected country, in this case Saint Lucia, is taking effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.
In effect, if the sanctions are to be removed, we must show proof that we are taking corrective steps to deal with the situation.
Faced with these very serious national security issues and the urgent need to confront a problem that was compromising the integrity of our country, I announced on August 30, 2014, that the Government had secured, through the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), the services of a team of investigators from the Jamaican Constabulary Force to investigate all instances of alleged “extra judicial killings” by members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
The team comprised eight investigators. Included among them were a ballistic expert, a legal advisor, a data entry specialist, a cyber-crime analyst, and detective investigators.
Since the receipt of the report, the Cabinet of Ministers has been studying its implications and recommendations. A copy of the report has also been shared with the United States Government.
There are those who glibly suggested that the government simply make the report a public document. Others have pronounced that we lacked the courage to implement, in total, the findings of the report. I reiterate that neither this Prime Minister nor the Government that I have the honour to lead will shirk its responsibilities in ensuring that our country abides by the rule of law.
MAIN FINDINGS OF INVESTIGATORS
I will state some of these findings tonight to bring home to you the extreme gravity of this matter. I cannot and will not discuss or review the evidential basis of the conclusions of the investigators. The matter of pursuing criminal charges is the preserve of the Director of Public Prosecutions and it is she who will pronounce on the same once her actions are consistent with our Constitution.
Our Constitution enshrines three separate arms of the state, the Executive, Legislative and the Judicial. I will not allow the Executive which I lead to transgress the province of the other two arms. I intend to fully continue respecting that sacred separation.
That said, I can report that the findings of the investigators are extremely damning. I will state some of these findings tonight to bring home to you the extreme gravity of this matter. These findings relate not only to those officers who were involved in the operations but additionally, members of the High Command of the Police Force who may have been involved in “covering up” these matters.
The report confirms that “the blacklist or death lists” referenced by the media, human rights organizations, victim’s families and citizens alike did exist.
More alarmingly, the investigators report that “all the shootings reviewed were ‘Fake Encounters’ staged by the Police to legitimize their actions.”
Further, that the weapons supposedly found on the scene of the alleged “extra judicial killings” were from sources other than the victims. The investigators say that the weapons were “planted on the scene of the shootings.”
The investigators also advised that “a number of shootings were done by police officers and are listed on the murder statistic as being done by unknown assailants;”
Revealingly, the report suggests that “the crime problem in Saint Lucia is facilitated by corrupt politicians/government officials, business persons and police officers.”
Of serious concern too, is the fact that the investigators also reported that in the course of the investigation, some senior officers did not co-operate with them. They reported that the main server of the computers used by some members of the High Command of the Police Force was deliberately tampered with. In two instances, the operating systems of the computers were altered to place the supposed contents beyond “the timeline of [the] investigation” or probe.
The report has also recommended that some senior police officers be held accountable for their actions or for their failure to take appropriate action when the alleged killings occurred.
The investigators also concluded that what operated during the period under review “was an environment of impunity and permissiveness designed to achieve the desired results. Willful blindness existed in respect of the Commissioner of Police and particular members of his leadership and management team.” T
The investigators have recommended that “All police officers involved in the unlawful killings of citizens in respect of the files reviewed must be prosecuted.”
In all, the investigators made some thirty one recommendations many of which touch on the management and administration of the Police Force.