Guyana Police Force has, since the early 1970s, been regarded
as a state organization with police officers who have breached
the law in the gravest of ways possible. They have killed either
civilian or alleged criminal under very questionable circumstances;
they have, to state it precisely, engaged in extra-judicial killings.
Despite the administration in the office of government, despite
the decade, these have continued. In the mid-to-late 1990s, certain
police members from the elite Target Special Squad (“Black
Clothes” police), became enforcers for a US Immigration
officer stationed at the US Embassy in Guyana, who engaged in
the corruption of granting US visas in exchange for money.
the denouncement of police extra-judicial killings (especially
of primarily Black or Afro-Guyanese men), has only increased.
In fact, one of the complaints given by those who support the
merge of essentially Black-directed criminal violence and pseudo-politics
emanating from a section of besieged Buxton, is that this “resistance”
is partially fueled in opposition to police extra-judicial killings.
Whether this is right or not, what is unquestionably right is
that everyone regardless of race should oppose all forms of extra-judicial
killings. For those who wish to get more information on police
killings, please contact the Guyana Human Rights Association for
some of its reports such as "Ambivalent About Violence: A
report of fatal shootings by the police in Guyana."
this page herein, there are links and sub-pages regarding the
issue of questionable police killings. We begin with a listing
done by the Guyana Human Rights Association of people who died
in questionable circumstances at the hands of the police since
1980. We have added three more names; Yohance Douglas, 17, a student
of the University of Guyana, was shot and killed by police on
March 1st, 2003, while travelling with friends to a basketball
game; Kellawan Etwaroo, who was killed by police on or about July
5, 2004, at the La Grange Police Station, West Bank Demerara,
and Carl Abrams, who was killed by a constable in Nabacalis on
November 13, 2005. Others who have died included Mohammed Shafeek
(who died at Brickdam police station) , Nandkumar Latchman ( who
died in the police lock-up at Whim, Berbice). and Rocky Anthony
Brunoanish who died on June 8, 2001 while in the Aurora Police
Station lockup. He died of a fractured skull and hemorrhaging
from a severe beating. Prior to his death, Brunoanish reportedly
asked for medical attention to no avail.
Left, Kellewan Etwaroo, found dead in police lock-up;
center, Carl Abrams, shot and killed by a police constable; right,
protestors outside the Cove and John police station
after Abrams was killed. (Images from various newspapers, Guyana).
died in police custody since 1980—GHRA
Condition of lock-ups seen as major factor in violence. Eighteen
persons have been confirmed as having died in police custody since
1980, according to the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA).
In its report -- 'Ambivalent About Violence: A report of fatal
shootings by the police in Guyana' -- released last week, the
GHRA stated that the conditions of the police lock-ups were a
major contributory factor to the culture of police violence in
The report said while the Brickdam lock-ups, as the largest such
facility had attracted the most attention, other lock-ups were
of a similar unacceptable standard. Of the 18 deaths recorded,
six were at Brickdam.
The GHRA said other deaths occurred at the Beterverwagting Police
Station, CID Headquarters, Kitty, Leonora, Number 51 Village Berbice,
Port Kaituma, Vigilance, and Whim lock-ups.
The report also gave an analysis of the killing of 239 suspects
by police between 1980-2001.
A perusal of the report showed that the routine claim by police
of killing a suspect after being attacked with a cutlass dated
back to 1980, one year after the first special squad in the Guyana
Police Force surfaced.
The report said that over the years, beating a confession out
of detained persons has been a routine form of police detection
work. According to evidence substantiated by lawyers, the report
said, people who did not have lawyers were almost certain to be
beaten, thus many poor people suffered disproportionately in this
GHRA found that numerous statements from persons who had passed
through the lock-ups attested to filthy and insanitary conditions;
overcrowding; lack of adequate light and air; the presence of
minors; high levels of violence practised by some detainees on
others; and sexual assaults over the years.
The report said control of the lock-ups often passed into the
hands of hardened detainees who sustained a reign of terror over
less experienced inmates.
"They assigned cells, commandeered food sent in to prisoners,
stole clothes, forced others to fan them, and used prisoners as
footstools to look through the windows for long periods. One man
with no criminal record had his nose fractured within 15 minutes
of entering the lock-ups," the report stated.
The GHRA declared that the awful experience of conditions of the
lock-ups was aggravated by slow court procedures. "Most magistrates
pay no attention to the degrading conditions to which suspects
appearing before them are subject."
One notorious case listed by the GHRA in the report of a death
in police custody was that of 33-year-old Ramkission Saymar in
The report said Saymar was arrested after being detained on suspicion
of dealing in stolen car parts. The suspect's family was deceived
into believing he was in good health when in fact he had lost
the use of his hands and could not walk, the report said.
It continued: "After Saymar was dead, his body was propped
up in the charge room as an attempt was made to deceive the family
into thinking he was still alive, and that they should remove
him to the hospital. The post-mortem report, read out in court,
stated that the body of Saymar had multiple abrasions on both
knees, elbows, left skin and back. There were large haematoma
on his back and buttocks, forehead and upper lip and both insteps.
The seventh and eighth ribs on the left and fourth and fifth ribs
on the right were fractured. There was a lacerated wound on his
tongue. There was hemorrhage and congestion of the lungs."
GHRA said a coroner's jury in April 1985 found that Saymar was
murdered by a person or persons unknown, and made no recommendation
to charge anyone.
Some other cases contained in the report were:
* 1989 -- Haribans and his wife, Halima, arrested by the police
and subsequently died from poisoning.
* 1994 -- Shivnarine Dalchand of Cane Grove, arrested by the police
during a drug raid. Dalchand subsequently died while in police
custody. The police claimed that Dalchand died by drowning while
attempting to escape.
* 1996 -- David Kennedy, 25-year-old captain of the hospital boat
of Bartica, died in the lock-ups from injuries after allegedly
being beaten by the police in the Bartica Police Station.
* 1999 -- Franz Britton, also known as 'Collie', arrested by police
and detained in the Brickdam lock-ups. Police maintained he was
released, but relatives claimed they have not seen him since his
* 2000 -- Mohamed Shafeek, 47-year-old fish vendor of Number One
Canal Polder, West Bank Demerara, brutally murdered while in police
custody. According to the post-mortem, Shafeek died from multiple
injuries, haemorrhage of the brain and fracture of the skull and
neck. Shafeek's relatives stated his body carried heavy bruises
all over his chest and back, his right wrist was broken, his hips
badly bruised, his spinal cord had been severed, his neck and
skull fractured, and his neck carried a puncture mark. An inquest
found the police to be criminally liable for his death. Early
in 2002, this verdict was quashed by a High Court order.
Of the 239 deaths recorded by the GHRA during the period under
review, police justified the vast majority on the grounds of:
"wanted by the police," "escaped from custody",
"resisting arrest." "Self defence" was often
invoked in reference to attacks with a cutlass, even in the most
unlikely circumstances, GHRA stated.
The report listed Samuel Mc Phoy as being killed by the police
in 1980 after he allegedly attacked them with a cutlass.
Some of the cases over the years listed by the GHRA include:
1983 -- Denzie Newton, shot and killed in Morawhanna, North West
District, after he allegedly attacked one of the policemen in
an armed posse.
Franz Layne, 24, shot and killed at Den Amstel, West Coast Demerara,
as he was allegedly attempting an armed robbery. It was alleged
that the police wanted Shepherd for some time.
1984 -- Percival Thompson, then vice-president Hamilton Green's
bodyguard, shot to death after allegedly attacking a policeman
with a knife when he intervened in a brawl involving policemen.
Frank Harris, 26, and Compton Tucker, 19, two remand prisoners,
were shot dead by police who claimed they attacked them with sharpened
forks and spoon handles.
1985 -- Levi Hetimyer, 16, and Warren Barrow, 14, shot by the
police on the sea wall. Police claimed they attacked them with
a pistol, screwdriver, and knife.
1986 -- Frank Kowlessar, shot to death in the compound of Brickdam
Police Station. It is alleged that Kowlessar attacked a civilian
with a cutlass then turned on the police when they attempted to
1988 -- Daniel Codrington, 21, reportedly killed during a shoot-out
with the police who claimed that he lived in the cemetery and
was responsible for a number of robberies.
1989 -- Steve Lewis, shot to death after police claimed he fired
1990 -- Andrew Azore, wanted for a series of robberies, fatally
shot when he allegedly attacked members of the Quick Reaction
Group. According to a police report, Azore had earlier attacked
and wounded a man in the neck and abdomen.
1991 -- Patrick Sookram, 25, of Vigilance, East Coast Demerara,
shot to death on Good Friday. Eyewitnesses stated that a well-known
policeman allegedly shot Sookram twice in the head while he was
walking on the dam, while a crowd of about 100 persons looked
1992 -- Lester Cornell, shot dead following a confrontation with
the police on a dam aback of South Ruimveldt. Police alleged that
in attempting to escape, Cornell whipped out a cutlass and attacked
one of the officers who opened fire.
1993 -- Clebert Sampson, escaped prisoner, reportedly shot dead
in the Mazaruni area while another escapee, Charles Lewis, was
seriously wounded. The police stated they were shot when they
attacked policemen with cutlasses.
1994 -- Shawn Reynolds of Princes Street, reportedly shot dead
after he snatched a handbag from a city businesswoman.
1995 -- Gary Stanford, shot dead in the vicinity of Albouystown.
According to the police, Stanford had been charged along with
others for the shooting of a truck driver. He was seen cycling
in Albouystown by a policeman who challenged him but Stanford
resisted arrest and drew a cutlass from his waist and attacked
1996 -- Mark Smith, 30, wanted for questioning into robberies
in South Ruimveldt, shot dead after he allegedly confronted the
police who later found a 9 mm automatic gun and 15 rounds of ammunition.
1997 -- Adam Hescott, 22, of La Penitence, allegedly shot in the
head and chest by a policeman. Hescott had escaped from the Camp
Street prison, was re-arrested and was being taken back to prison.
Relatives of Hescott and many residents in the area witnessed
1998 -- Victor Bourne, taxi driver of Roxanne Burnham Gardens,
shot and killed in bed by a party of policemen. The police alleged
that Bourne was a wanted man. Relevant papers to start the inquest
went missing after the chief magistrate's office was vandalised.
1999 -- Colin Mc Gregor, of Number 68 Village Corentyne, fatally
shot when he opened the door to his house. According to reports,
Mc Gregor's body was taken away by the police and no relatives
allowed to witness the post-mortem.
2000 -- Shawn Nedd, 29, of Campbellville Housing Scheme, fatally
shot. Nedd's mother reported that he was picking eddo leaves in
an alley when the police approached him. He was ordered into a
police vehicle where he was shot. Eusi Kwayana of the WPA filed
a private criminal charge against a policeman. The Director of
Public Prosecutions discontinued this charge.
2001 -- Brian King, 33, of Princes and Smythe streets, allegedly
shot in the mouth by police who claimed he had attacked them with
a cutlass during an arrest. (Andrew Richards) (see SN 202/23/2001).
2003: Yohance Douglas, 17, a student of the University
of Guyana, was shot and killed by police on March 1st, 2003, while
travelling with three of his friends at the corner of Sheriff
and Bonasika streets, Section 'K' Campbellville, Georgetown, as
they headed for a game of basketball. The police believed the
Guyanese youths for gunmen, and fatally opened fired resulting
in the death of Douglas. (For more, see Yohance Douglas page below.)
2004: Kellawan Etwaroo, 38, a grass-cutter of
Independence Street, La Grange, West Bank Demerara, was found
dead in his cell on July 5, 2004. When his wife was taken to see
the body, he was found on his stomach, blood coming from his mouth
and feces covering the lower part of his body. The police claimed
he hit his head and died. The autopsy showed that he died due
to hemorrage suffered. Mr. Etwaroo was taken into the lock-up
while drunk, and on allegations that he stole two gold rings.
2005: Carl Abrams, 24, a disc jockey, was shot
and killed in Nabacalis by a police constable in what is still
a disputed case, on Novermber 13, 2005. Villagers believe the
policeman went to rob Abrams (he had robbed another villager the
previous night), and shot him in the stomach as he sat on a bench
in front of a friend's yard. The police report on November 15,
stated that Abrams fired at the cop (and another man) who had
come to the aid of another man runing from Abrams. Thereafter,
the policeman returened fire. But the police has not been able
to produce any weapon used by Abrams.
of Police brutality should be investigated—President Stresses
from Guyana Chronicle
January 12, 2002
"(The allegations) should be investigated...there
should be an inquest if required, and then whatever comes out
of the inquest we proceed with that"—President Bharrat
PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday reiterated
that allegations of Police brutality and extra-judicial killings
should be investigated and inquests held if required.
Noting recent allegations about Police brutality and extra-judicial
killings, he told a news conference, "my position is that
they should be investigated, that there should be an inquest if
required, and then whatever comes out of the inquest we proceed
The main Opposition People's National Congress
Reform (PNC/R), Thursday said there was an "unacceptably
high incidence of extra-judicial killings by the Police"
and claimed it has become quite clear that the public cannot rely
on or trust the Police to investigate their own. Mr. Raphael Trotman
told a news conference at the party's Congress Place headquarters
in Georgetown that in almost every case of extra-judicial killing,
the Police claimed they would be mounting an investigation. He
charged, "either nothing further is heard or the matter is
alleged to have been referred to the office of the Director of
Public Prosecution (DPP)" and that is the end of the matter.
The lawyer declared that the office of the DPP
has "become a funeral parlour where cases are indirectly
buried without the benefit of a clergy". President Jagdeo
yesterday said what was worrying was that Policemen are tried
even before they have a chance to give their side of the story.
"I don't have a problem with an inquest
and the investigations being done but as soon as it happens you
already have a trial. They (a section of the public) don't know
the circumstances under which the Police have had to use force
in some cases...they simply come to the conclusion that once someone
dies, it's extra judicial killings," Mr. Jagdeo contended.
The President said he has observed that in about 80 per cent of
the cases of alleged extra-judicial killings and Police brutality,
"it becomes either a political case, someone with an axe
to grind or some media personality fulfilling his megalomaniac
He expressed disappointment that Trotman, at
the PNC/R news conference, sought to distort a statement he made
on alleged extra-judicial killings. "I am disappointed that
Trotman, who is a young politician, would seek to distort me based
on an interview that I gave to (the media)...," President
Trotman claimed the President had "admitted
that these were political killings" and that this has given
fuel to those who have alleged that the killings have the political
purpose of terrorising the Afro-Guyanese community and reducing
its birthrate by killing young males at the height of their virility.
But Information Liaison to the President, Mr. Robert Persaud,
in a statement Thursday afternoon, said the allegation by Trotman
was "an act of gross misrepresentation of the President's
comment on the matter".
Persaud said that the President, immediately
after swearing-in former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Mr. Cecil
Kennard as the new Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority
on Monday, was asked by a member of the media to respond to charges
and allegations of the "extra-judicial killings" by
members of the Police Force. "To this question, His Excellency
responded that many of the charges of `extra-judicial' killings
are politically motivated," Persaud said.
"The President further explained that his Government would
not condone any illegal action and abuse of authority by members
of the Police Force," he added.
"It is disappointing that Mr. Trotman would
seek to enhance his political fortunes by resorting to misrepresentation
of a simple and clear statement by the Head of State," the
Office of the President statement said.
President Jagdeo yesterday referred to the case of mini-bus driver
Brian King, who was reportedly shot in the mouth by a Policeman
and died about a month later.
"...it's only subsequently that I learnt
from a Police report that he (King) had an altercation (with the
Police), and people in the community saw that he was shot in a
situation of confrontation and this man was in the hospital for
(some 16 days)," Mr. Jagdeo said. He said his initial impression
when he saw a television report was that this "had suddenly
happened, just now, 15 minutes ago..."
"...the way it was shown on television
(was like) the Police just walked up and shot (King) in his mouth,"
The President, however, made it clear that he does not have a
problem with an investigation into this case. He said the "story
should be presented in its proper perspective and then people
will understand it". The President said he is not going to
condone this type of action if it takes place, referring to extra-judicial
killings and Police brutality. He, however, pointed out that Policemen
operate in very difficult circumstances. He noted that Policemen
put their lives at risk when they go out on duty, taking into
consideration the types of sophisticated weapons the criminals
use in robberies.
"When the Policemen go out there they put their lives at
risk for all of us...so please don't try them before the actual
trial takes place," he urged.
Opposition and PNC/R Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, at the Thursday
news conference, charged that alleged extra-judicial killings
have become so alarming in Guyana that many people who were silent
before are beginning to take note now. "...what we need to
do is to prod more and more people into action, into protesting
and into internationalising the issue, embarrassing the Government
and embarrassing the Police Force, and I think the Government
knows that the public is outraged at what is happening in this
particular area of activity," he said.
He accused the Police of shooting and killing people within a
certain age range, "young people...people who are at that
stage of their life who are very reproductive; and those who are
being killed, let's face it, are Afro-Guyanese."
Hoyte claimed the killings are not being done by the vast majority
of policemen but by a "specially selected few".
He called for a mechanism where an investigation (inquiry) can
be done by an agency other than the Police Force because "there
has not been a single case where the Police have investigated
a killing which has led to a Policeman being charged, much less
Trotman said the PNC/R had hoped that with the appointment of
the new Commissioner of Police, there would have been a pause
in "these unlawful killings", but that has not happened.
Extra-Judicial Killings: Symptom or Consequence
of a Violent Society?
By Mike McCormack
March 30, 2003
Extra Judicial Executions (EJEs) have been a
feature of life in Guyana since the 80s, though they have received
particular attention in recent times. These EJEs were monitored
over the years by the Guyana Human Rights Association which last
year issued a comprehensive report on the topic.
In a effort to shed some light on the matter
we asked Mr Mike McCormack who has been involved in human rights
campaigning in Guyana and further afield for many years and who
is currently Co-President of the Guyana Human Rights Association
to write an article sketching the position over the years and
giving some analysis of this phenomenon, which has also become
a major problem in another Caribbean territory, Jamaica.
In November 1985 Levi Hetymeier and Warren Barrow
were shot dead by three policemen at the sea-wall. In their defence
the policemen claimed to have been attacked by two men "armed
with pistols, screw-driver and knife". It turned out that
Barrow was 14-years old and Hetymeier 16-years old. The Police
Commissioner deemed calls for an inquest into the circumstances
"irresponsible", and went on to remark that any 'responsible
enquiry' would vindicate his belief that his men acted properly.
No such inquiry was ever held. Virtually no voices were raised
in protest. The two boys were buried in unmarked graves in La
Repentir cemetery. And that was the end of the story.
Eighteen years later the death of Yohance Douglas,
a 17-year old shot by a unit of four policemen in broad daylight
in the company of three friends created a furore, mobilized thousands
in protests against extra-judicial killings, forced unprecedented
action from the police and led to calls for independent international
What happened in the intervening years to propel
extra-judicial killings by the police to such prominence? In this
article I shall attempt to identify key factors that help explain
this transition from routine acceptance to widespread indignation.
Three categories of factors need to be taken
into account, firstly, conditions within the society as a whole;
secondly, factors internal to the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and,
thirdly, the international climate with respect to extra-judicial
From State Control to Market Forces
The most influential factor in changed responses to extra-judicial
killings is the more liberal atmosphere in the society. In 1985
when Hetymeier and Barrow were shot, media outlets were either
State controlled or starved of access to paper. Television had
not yet arrived in Guyana. Information did not circulate freely
in the society. Unfavourable reporting on the Government carried
a predictable price. At the low end, the bad news would attract
abuse for the State press, at the high end, the price could involve
libel suits, loss of jobs or other effective deterrents.
Shootings by the police fell into the category
of very bad news. The Guyana Human Rights Association was accused
in 1986 of 'furthering its own ends', 'venting its spleen', and
being 'trouble-makers' by publishing 'A Briefing on Police Violence'
which was deemed a 'completely irresponsible accusation'. The
then President gave the Guyana Police Force a 'vote of confidence'
for 'blunting the efforts of the trouble-makers.' The Mirror,
Stabroek News and the GHRA were all served with libel suits from
the Director of Public Prosecutions and members of the Quick Reaction
The distinguished Indian economist Amartya Sen
has commented that 'famine does not happen in democracies'. In
other words when people are free to criticize, abuses are not
allowed to fester until they reach crisis stage. Obviously this
aphorism does not apply only to famine. Any abuse protected from
criticism has the potential for crisis. In the decade of the 1980s,
killings by the police fell into this category.
Shielded from public indignation, policemen who
indulged in the use of excessive force could operate with impunity.
The use of excessive force extended to violent treatment of detainees
in police lock-ups with batons marked 'Speak The Truth'; sexual
assaults by other detainees and members of the GPF; ducked in
filthy toilets to the point of drowning, all of which occurred
in over-crowded cells slimy from urine, awash with cockroaches,
ants, rats and creeping insects. While Brickdam lock-up was consistently
top of the notoriety league many others weren't far behind.
Understanding 'culture' as 'the way things are
done', this combination of secrecy and produced a culture of violent
policing. The ramifications of brutal policing were manifest during
the 1980s by the number of cases thrown out of court because the
only evidence the police could lead was a forced confession. Justice
Barnwell commented after one such case "A voluntary confession
is the best evidence...but in every confession something happens.
I will not have it until rules are complied with. The police must
understand the meaning of investigation, no police station is
going to be a court."
It might be thought that the logical response
to this judicial reaction would be to resort to better evidence-gathering
procedures. The culture of violent policing, however, operated
on a different logic. If the courts could not be relied on to
convict known offenders, the police would take the law into their
own hands. In the words of one member of the Target Special Squad,
"If we send them to the courts they get off, better we send
them to the cemetery." Later EJEs became a convenient way
of closing unsolved files. The practice developed of announcing
a man shot dead, such as Sean Williams in 1997, was wanted in
relation to 25 reports of robbery under arms.
There have been few cases of police shooting
armed criminals in the course of committing a crime. Since usually
the police arrive on the scene only after the criminals have left,
the majority of violent encounters with criminals occur on raids
or ambushes. It is the behaviour of the elements in the GPF in
set pieces of this nature, in which the police have the initiative
and are in control, that shooting to kill is least defensible.
While the likelihood of encountering armed criminals has risen
steeply in the last year, this is not a new phenomenon.
The current crisis situation in which police
officers are being attacked with deadly force without provocation,
in part, is rooted in the expectation that given an opportunity,
the police would kill rather than arrest. The other dimension
of unprovoked killings of police officers seemingly is the status
among criminals of those who have and haven't killed a policeman.
It is clear from numerous eye-witness statements
that the primary intention of the police was to eliminate wanted
persons. Time-worn excuses of being attacked by a cutlass-wielding
assailant are no longer credible. Arresting persons wanted for
serious crimes is becoming relatively remote.
A powerful factor, external to the GPF, encouraging
the culture of violence is the practice of businessmen providing
inducements, gifts and 'retainers to particular officers to get
quick results after a robbery on their premises or their home.
This pressure to cut corners led police on the payroll to terrorize
employees first, then known criminals, beating as they go, until
someone confesses. A Stabroek News article of November 13th 1990
exposed the fact that "very senior officials" are aware
of the large sums businessmen pay to junior officers and are usually
given part of the payment.
In this political environment which discouraged
transparency, condoned corruption and overlooked violence, the
creation of a squad within the GPF, enjoying immunity from normal
oversight, was a logical step. The Impact Undercover Unit, created
in July 1992, was just such a unit.
Probably more than any other single factor, the
behaviour of the Impact Squad contributed to EJEs becoming a major
issue. Under a headline "Impact Undercover Unit is Laurie's
Secret Weapon" in Stabroek News of September 2 1992 Commissioner
Laurie Lewis was quoted on the modus operandi of Impact, 'Sources
('underground informers') are not revealed to anyone not even
the commanding officer who must trust his operatives' integrity...'.
On the controversial subject of EJEs Commissioner Lewis denied
the squad had a shoot-to-kill policy, but noted that policemen
and women 'were only human' and entitled to defend themselves
against potential killers. The article also noted that 'a great
deal of its work is secret'.
The combination of a weak chain-of-command, consorting
with criminals and a presumption that shootings to defend themselves
will occur, was a recipe for lawlessness. A squad of the Impact
type required high levels of self-discipline within a Police Force
possessing rigorous standards and procedures. Unfortunately neither
requirement was present.
The Impact Squad gave rise to the Target Special
Squad or 'black clothes' which developed a reputation for eliminating
rather than arresting wanted men, extorting money from criminals,
acting as enforcers for crime rings, such as the United States
visa racket, and, finally, involving itself in organized drug
crime. The names of its leaders, Fraser and Merai, became synonymous
with the practice of arbitrary or summary execution. The extent
to which the Squad went out of control surfaced in recent months
with the trial of Thomas Carroll, a former embassy staff member
in the United States embassy who ran an extensive visa racket.
From 1995 as 'Impact' got into its stride, the
numbers of people shot dead by the police started to rise sharply.
Scale Of The Problem
A documented 239 deaths by the Guyana Human Rights Association
occurred in the twenty year period between 1980 and 2001, with
the GHRA pointing out these are only the cases which have come
to its attention. The possibility of lower than actual figures
is more likely to apply to the period prior to the late 1980s
when, as we have noted, information did not circulate as freely
as after that period.
The distribution of deaths over the twenty year
period saw 53% (126) of all fatal shootings occur between 1980-1992
and 47% (113) between 1993-2001, suggesting little difference
in policies on EJEs between the two political administrations,
the PNC in the former period and the PPP in the latter. In light
of these figures, it is difficult to make a convincing case that
EJEs have been used explicitly as a political tool by any political
However, within the two periods, it is interesting
to note that the first half of the PNC administration 1980-1985
had an average of 13 per year, while in the second half, under
the Hoyte administration ('86-92), the average fell to slightly
over 5 per year. A similar disparity occurred during the PPP administration.
Between 1992-97(March), the Cheddi Jagan Presidency, numbers continued
relatively low (9 per year), but under his successors rose sharply
to close to 15 deaths per year. 1997 saw an all-time high of 28
deaths at the hands of the police.
The factor which finally made the difference between EJEs being
lamented by fringe elements and becoming a central element in
a political crisis, was race.
The case for racial profiling of Afro-Guyanese
is that since 1980 78% of the persons shot were of Afro-Guyanese
origin. Within that period from 1980-92, under an Afro-Guyanese
administration 70% of victims were of Afro-Guyanese origin. During
the later half of the period,(93-01), under an Indo-Guyanese administration,
88% of the victims were drawn from this group. While the latter
figure is significantly higher than the former, both are so substantial
as to undermine the argument that the problem is partisan. Neither
the PNC nor the PPP administrations took effective measures to
address EJEs. Rather than argue that EJEs are a politically-inspired
mechanism of an Indo-Guyanese Government against Afro-Guyanese
criminals, the figures would better support an argument that all
Governments have been prepared to defend violent policing particularly
in poor urban areas. A more persuasive argument to explain the
statistics is based on class (economic and social factors), rather
than on racial politics.
Apart from the fact that Afro- Guyanese deaths
are high under all Administrations, three other factors complicate
the charges of profiling. Firstly, the GPF is itself overwhelmingly
Afro-Guyanese in make-up. Secondly, what little criminological
research is available on Guyana points to 78% of criminal offenders
being drawn from the Afro-Guyanese community. Since the prison
population is also overwhelmingly Afro-Guyanese, to be consistent,
profiling charges would also have to be levelled against the Judiciary.
Finally, crime is largely an urban phenomenon in all parts of
the world and the Afro- Guyanese population lives in the urban
The same statistics used to argue for racial
profiling, equally support charges of profiling 'urban' rather
than 'rural' dwellers for EJEs.
Another statistic, this time from inside the
world of violent policing, also throws doubt on racial profiling
as an adequate explanation of EJEs. While actual numbers are much
lower, of the 18 deaths which occurred in police custody since
1980, 66% were of Indo-Guyanese origin. This is an important statistic,
since Indo-Guyanese comprise a far smaller percentage of the detained
population, than Afro-Guyanese.
Deaths in police custody point to the violent
nature of policing in Guyana. Most of the deaths in custody are
the result of injuries sustained from extreme brutality and torture,
suggesting cultural explanations - the way we do things - rather
than political motivation as the main cause of killings by the
police. Moreover, the violent culture within the GPF, which the
society largely condoned, reflected a society in which violence
in many forms is condoned.
Following the upsurge of police death squads in Brazil, Argentina
and Uruguay in the mid-80s, and later the scandalous practice
of eliminating street children in Brazil, extra-judicial killings
became a major issue of international human rights concern. International
principles elaborated by the United Nations in 1989 reflected
the extent of international concern and the rigorous standards
to be observed by police forces across the globe.
These included the fact that exceptional circumstances
such as internal political instability or public emergencies could
not be invoked as justification of extra-legal, arbitrary or summary
executions. All officers have the right to defy orders from superior
officers or public authorities to carry out such acts. Independent
commissions of inquiry shall be established where complaints are
made about the adequacy, impartiality, lack of expertise, or the
apparent existence of a pattern of abuse. Finally, in no circumstances,
including a state of war, siege or other emergency shall blanket
immunity from prosecution be granted to persons allegedly involved
in extra-judicial executions.
Concerns of other Governments, particularly North
American and European, over EJEs in Guyana, have been raised with
the Government of Guyana as a matter of priority in recent years,
reflecting an international consensus that EJEs are unacceptable.
Non-governmental bodies such as Amnesty International have also
criticised the Government of Guyana on a number of occasions for
its inadequate response to this problem.
Measured by these standards, the casual treatment
of extra-judicial killings by successive Guyanese governments
and those responsible for the administration of justice, has been
lamentable. Governments, especially the current one, merit severe
criticism, even condemnation for defending elements in the GPF
responsible for EJEs. This policy became particularly indefensible
with respect to the Target Special Squad. Political protection
for the minority of rogues in the GPF has exposed the majority
of law-abiding officers to execution by the political/criminal
elements. The count is 20 in the past twelve months.
Guyana Is A Violent Society
Concern for EJEs cannot be separated from the more general problem
of a culture of violent policing. This in turn is a symptom of
violence in the society in general, which has replaced respectful
relations between citizens. While this is particularly true with
respect to the political life of the society, violence has been
a formative feature of the society going back to its roots in
slavery and indentureship.
Our political culture - the way we do things
politically - directly contributes to violence. A generation of
Guyanese young people were trained in the use of arms in a plethora
of militarized units - the Peoples' Militia, the National Service
and youth organizations. None of this could be justified in terms
of external threat. Political life is conducted with regular bouts
of disrespect for law and order and violent confrontations with
the Police Force and a high degree of slander, vulgarity and disrespect
We demonstrate a high level of tolerance for
violence in domestic relations between parents and children; corporal
punishment is still entrenched in our education system; violence
towards criminals is acceptable to most Guyanese whose businesses
are vulnerable to theft and looting; violence against women is
extensively practiced; television violence and its impact on children
raises few voices of concern, the appalling state of our prisons
is considered just desserts and we cling to the death penalty
for 'eye for an eye' reasons, more than for its proven success
as a deterrent.
All of this has fostered a culture prone more
to violence than to respect. That the Guyana Police Force should
have been infected with the violence virus is not surprising to
say the least. The general public have been encouraged not to
respect members of the Force, who in turn have learnt to impose
themselves on a situation in order to gain respect. Thus policing
by force, rather than by service, accurately reflects the message
the society - or more accurately, its leaders, - have been promoting
for a long time.
Ambivalent About Violence
Guyanese society remains ambivalent about violence. Virtually
every sector of Guyanese society, including religious sectors,
find some form of violence acceptable. As long as all forms of
violence are tolerated by some elements or other in civil society,
it is illusory to expect the culture of violence within the police
force to be fully eradicated. Moreover, for extra-judicial and
arbitrary killings to disappear, the culture of violent policing
which nurtures them must also disappear. This in turn requires
a culture in the society which does not tolerate violence of any
Reactions to violence by civil society have not
been sustained, probably because they have not succeeded in moving
beyond elites to generate broad-based momentum. No nexus has been
successfully created between community-based committees protesting
individual EJEs and broad-based initiatives of concern. Too frequently
community-based efforts have been effectively smothered by party
None of the above is intended to imply that the
problem of EJEs should not be addressed decisively and urgently.
What it does imply is that we cannot hope to lay all responsibility
for violent policing at the feet of the GPF. A society largely
gets the kind of policing it deserves, whether this be measured
by standards, by resources or by oversight mechanisms. Measured
by these criteria, it appears Guyanese are not serious about high
standards of policing. There is no manifest urgency to resolve
the anomaly by which we currently have no constitutionally guaranteed
rights, which the police are required to respect. Nor, from a
resources point of view, can we demand the Police Force operate
more effectively, until policing is made an attractive and competitive
Finally, as a society, we cannot exercise effective
oversight, because we have no institution that brings together
civilian, legal and police concerns about security and policing.
Successfully addressing EJEs, therefore, requires
attention be paid to the broader picture and that civil society's
advocacy goes beyond individual cases.
If as a society we are to atone for the deaths
of Yohance Douglas and the hundreds before him who have died violent
deaths the process involves a number of steps. Some of them have
been suggested earlier. However, the first step must surely be
as a society and as separate ethnic groups, as religious and trade
union bodies, as political parties and as individuals to consign
our ambiguity about violence to an unmarked grave, never to be
Report Emphasises the Need for Reform of Police Execution Squad
from Stabroek News
February 22, 2002
I write to compliment the Guyana Human Rights
As-sociation for finally adding weight to the debate on extra-judicial
killings. Many commentators may want to seize on the facts garnered
over twenty years and massage them to their advantage whilst others,
may smart at the mention of days of old. It is good to know however
that we can have a holistic view of this Frankenstein from several
angles. For me, this represents a start in the right direction.
It has been said that before God can deliver us, we must undeceive
ourselves and this report appears to agree with this truism. The
facts as confirmed by the GHRA report appropriately entitled "Ambivalent
About Violence" shows that within the Guyana Police Force
there is a unit operating above the law. This unit is constituted
from time to time by different faces and characters. From the
limited report in the Stabroek News, however, it is difficult
to discern the precise causes of these killings and one would
expect that at sometime soon we may see a breakdown of the circumstances,
whether they were all due to the usual "man attacks armed
police party with cutlass drawn from the waist", or some
other incomprehensible reason. Interestingly also, the report
does not appear to address disappearances, torture, and near death
beatings. There is no doubt that every police force needs a unit
or squad to address serious crime. Such a unit is expected at
all times to be disciplined and to function very much like a SWAT
team as exists in other nations.
Our teams, for whatever the reasons, have in
the past, and moreso in the present, redefined their own roles
and responsibilities becoming judge, jury and executioner. This
is frightening and can only get worse. People are appalled not
only at the fact that people are dying but moreover by the manner
of their deaths. No one believes any longer the excuses and explanations
given for the deaths. The police hierarchy ought as well to be
very concerned about the functioning of ranks of this unit as
ordinary members of the society. What happens for example if one
of these persons desires to retire or resign, can he easily re-integrate
into society and carry on a normal family life? I doubt it. In
closing, I once again add my voice to the thousands of others
and call for a thorough review of policing in Guyana leading to
a redefining of the role of the Guyana Police Force and supporting
services. We have the report of the British experts and suggestions
from eminently qualified Guyanese to start with. The continued
right of existence and methods of operation of the Black Clothes
squad is more a symptom of the continuing disintegration of the
state than we may care to acknowledge, and quite honestly is likely
to continue until we manage to pull ourselves back from the edge
of the precipice, or indeed tumble over. I do believe that the
Police Force, like other institutions, has been attempting to
hold the pieces together hoping and praying for the politicians
to come up with answers and solutions quickly. For this they must
be commended but not for allowing a mere handful to decide what
that solution is.
Police killings have Alienated Force from
Communities—Jusice for Jermaine Committee
From Stabroek News
September 1, 2003
Extra-judicial killings have caused communities
to lose respect for the Guyana Police Force (GPF) which now needs
to foster stronger ties with citizens while being held accountable
for their actions.
This was among the observations submitted on
Wednesday when Kenneth Chance of the Justice For Jermaine Committee
(JJC) addressed members of the Disciplined Forces Com- mission
of Enquiry (DFC). The Commission of Enquiry, which was set up
by the National Assembly, has been mandated to review the operations
of the Disciplinary Services. It is to give priority to its investigation
of the operations of the Police Force, and will submit a report
of its findings and recommendations to the Assembly.
Justice of Appeal Ian Chang is chairman of the
Commission which also comprises former Attorney General Charles
Ramson SC, former National Security Adviser, Brigadier (rtd) David
Granger, attorney-at-law, Anil Nandlall and Irish human rights
activist, Maggie Beirne. Speaking at the Conference Room of the
Supreme Court Law Library, Chance said police had exercised scant
regard for the civil rights of the citizenry, which he attributed
to the lack of accountability in the force.
The Justice for Jermaine Committee (JJC) was
set up following the police killing of an Albouystown resident,
20-year-old Jermaine Wilkinson. He said the police, acting on
reports, kicked down doors and terrorised suspects and their families,
who were often left too afraid to report the incident. He said
he was subjected to such an experience when police, at about 10:00
pm kicked down his own door and shot at him, leaving his blind
Such instances, he said, could be avoided if
communities had a better relationship with police. But he said
the strained relationship was created by the extra-judicial killings
committed by members of the force. Of his own community, Albouystown,
he estimated the relationship with police to be fair, though he
considered it had been adversely affected after the killing of
Wilkinson. He said persons in the community did have some amount
of confidence in the police, although the community was plagued
by a criminal image. He explained that this image was as a result
of the negative influences who settled in the ward, though he
conceded that the area was also plagued by petty crime.
Chance considered that where communities had
confidence in the police, law-abiding citizens would be unafraid
to render assistance to the law enforcement authorities. As the
situation was now, a stigma was attached to those persons who
reported to the police with them being viewed as ‘snitches’
by their communities. In other instances persons terrified by
the police failed to come forward as witnesses in criminal investigations.
He recommended greater community involvement by the police, who
needed to monitor such depressed areas, while also working to
dissuade underprivileged youths from crime.
Chance also spoke out against extra-judicial
killings and advocated that all police personnel implicated in
such acts be charged and tried for their crimes. He cited the
case of the policeman who was committed to stand trial for the
death of Wilkinson. The officer was committed to stand trial for
manslaughter, but has yet to be tried before a jury since the
depositions from the Preliminary Inquiry had not been transmitted
to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In regard to the prison services, he considered
that there were not enough attempts being made to separate hardcore
criminals from those imprisoned for minor offences. By his estimate,
persons were made criminals when introduced to the prison system,
which allowed such association in the overcrowded prison system.
He also suggested the implementation of a mechanism to allow for
the proper reintegration of the prisoner into civilian life.
Meanwhile, Savitree Mohanlall, an Annandale woman
who alleged that she was assaulted and her husband wrongly imprisoned
by police, also testified before the commissioners on Wednesday.
Mohanlall, who has since filed a lawsuit against the police force,
recalled that the incident occurred on August 9 at about 3:30
pm when in the presence of several people, two police officers
entered their premises seeking her husband, Mohanlall Ramcharran.
Mohanlall, whose left hand was heavily bandaged,
told the commissioners that the officers said her husband was
wanted by the sergeant at the Vigilance Police Station. After
a scuffle her husband was then taken to the station and released
24 hours after on station bail. His wife acquired a medical certificate
after being examined by a doctor and later went to the Vigilance
Police Station to make a formal report.
Both she and her husband were later charged for
their alleged actions during the incident, while she has received
no information concerning the police investigations.Mohanlall
recommended that there is need for police to treat people like
civilians, rather than criminals, noting that other citizens could
be treated in the same way as she was. Also testifying at the
hearing was George James, who told the commissioners that nothing
had come of a relative’s death, which he believed was caused
by a policeman. His relative was married to a policeman and was
reported to have committed suicide in 1999. But he contended that
she was shot by her husband and nothing had been done
on Police Brutality, Killings
The People's National Congress/ REFORM (PNC/R) says that there
is need for a full-fledged public debate on police brutality and
According to a release from the party, a Notice of Motion for
a Parliamentary debate on this matter was submitted to the National
Assembly by PNC/R Member of Parliament, Deborah Backer and was
published on September 9, 2001.
"Since then, the PPP/C regime has delayed bringing up the
Motion for debate. PNC/R demands that the regime stop stalling
on this important subject and put the Motion on the Order Paper
for early debate," the release stated.
The party's release referred to the incident on December 4 in
which a policeman shot Jermaine Thomas five times in Leopold Street,
Georgetown and the case on December 2 when a policeman shot Brian
King of Smyth Street, Charlestown, in the mouth.
"In both cases," the release noted, "the victims
were unarmed, and eyewitness accounts confirm that the shootings
were wholly unjustified and unlawful."
The party said that the Police Commissioner "must be concerned
about the fact that since 1993 at least 122 citizens have been
gunned down or killed while in custody by police ranks."
The PNC/R is calling on the Police Commissioner "to show
that he has the will and the strength to demand and impose an
acceptable standard of professionalism and a proper respect for
The release observed also that on November 28, even as a Coroner's
jury was returning a verdict implicating a policeman in the brutal
and unlawful killing of Mohammed Shafeek while he was in police
custody, the media were reporting another brutal killing of another
citizen, Nandkumar Latchman on November 27 while he was in police
custody at the Whim Police station. (SN Dec 10, 2001.)
(Stabroek News editorial)
Tuesday, November 22nd 2005
Perhaps the main reason put forward for their
disaffection, at least initially, by those who support the `African
resistance' was the Extra-Judicial Executions (EJEs) by the police
of mainly young African Guyanese. It was on the face of it a legitimate
reason but must be seen in context. The best known source for
the relevant facts is the Report put out by the Guyana Human Rights
Association (GHRA) in February 2002 captioned "Ambivalent
About Violence: a Report on Fatal Shootings by the Police in Guyana
1980-2002". The conclusions reached in that report were as
*Fatal shootings by the police recorded during the period under
review show numbers for 1980-85 and 1995-200l to be equally high
at 15 persons per annum, with the intervening decade experiencing
lower figures at an average of 6 deaths annually.
*Of the total of 239 deaths recorded by the GHRA during the period
under review, 185 (78%) were of Afro-Guyanese origin and 12% of
*Of the 18 deaths in police custody over the period, 12 (67%)
were of Indo-Guyanese origin while 22% were of Afro-Guyanese origin.
*The information available does not justify sufficiently charges
of racial profiling of Afro Guyanese with respect to shootings
or Indo-Guyanese with respect to deaths in custody.
*105 deaths by shootings were recorded in the period 1995-200l.
*How many persons may have subsequently died from their wounds,
following shootings by the police, is unknown.
* The failure to hold Coroner's Inquests constitutes the most
important contributory factor to deaths by police shooting.
*Reports of systematic and extreme brutality in police-stations
and outposts has reduced steadily over the past decade. However,
isolated incidents of such brutality continue to occur too frequently.
*The vast majority of all shootings recorded in this Report were
justified by the police on the grounds of "wanted by the
Police", "escaped from custody", "resisting
arrest", "self-defence" is often invoked in reference
to attacks with a cutlass, even in the most unlikely circumstances.
*Societal reaction to violence in general has been ambivalent
and selective, sending mixed messages to successive political
*A high percentage of Extra-Judicial Executions (EJEs) are carried
out by special squads in the GPF which have operated under various
names over the past twenty years.
*A free media in the past decade has led to more complete public
information on EJEs and police excesses in general.
*No political administration has dealt successfully with the
issue of excessive use of force.
*Both the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Office of
Professional Responsibility (OPR) have failed to curb EJEs or
the larger problem of police brutality.
*External factors contributing to the failure of the GPF to resolve
the problems internally include political interference and official
ambivalence towards the problem, poor salaries and conditions,
inadequate equipment and training, commercial inducements to resolve
crime and inadequate support from the other arms of the administration
*The increase of police shootings in recent years parallels a
proliferation of fire-arms in the society."
The GHRA made a number of recommendations which included the
"*The practice of holding of Coroner's inquests into every
death by unnatural causes without delay should be re-instituted
*When the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) does not act
promptly to implement the findings of inquests, victims should
seek redress in international tribunals such as the Inter-American
Human Rights Commission of the OAS and through the Optional Protocol
of the UN Human Rights Committee.
*As a potential source of racial tension, the Government should
act to eliminate extra-judicial executions and violence by the
* The licence of Special Squads in the GPF and other squads which
operate outside of the normal command structures should be terminated
*The society in general needs to take unequivocal positions against
all forms of violence as counter-productive and inter-related.
* Instruction on international standards pertaining to policing,
especially Internal Rules with respect to the use of excessive
force and firearms, must be incorporated into GPF Training Programmes.
* International procedures of the GPF with respect to the discharge
of firearms should be enforced.
* Conditions for obtaining a firearm licence should be more stringent."
After describing the deaths over the period year by year, and
referring to its own reports and press releases and the annual
reports of the US State Department on Human Rights, the GHRA offered
some further analysis, two sections of which are of particular
Race-Based Analysis of Police Shootings
Racial profiling implies that certain assumptions
and motives of a racial nature are the main cause of disproportionate
numbers of persons from one racial grouping suffering a particular
consequence. In determining whether the figures presented above
represent racial profiling by the GPF against Afro-Guyanese with
respect to shootings and Indo-Guyanese in terms of death in custody,
several considerations must be taken into account.
Firstly, distribution of fatal shootings occurred
almost equally (53% and 47%) over the two party political administrations
covered in the Report, rendering difficult the conclusion that
EJEs were used as a political tool, by one administration more
than another, (if indeed they were so used by either), or as a
racial strategy by either. Secondly, the predominantly Afro-Guyanese
composition of the GPF makes racial bias within the Force difficult
to sustain with respect to the shootings. Thirdly, since crime
is predominantly an urban phenomenon worldwide, it is not surprising
that, in Guyana, the majority of persons involved in criminality,
and for this reason in conflict with the police, will be of urban
and therefore, of Afro-origin. That Guyana is no exception in
this respect is, in fact, borne out by a study on criminality
in Georgetown which states that "Africans comprised 78.2%
of the offenders, East Indians 11.6% and others 10.2%. These percentages
are consistent with those for police shootings over the period
under review. In view of these statistics, if the charge of racial
profiling is pursued against the GPF, similar conclusions would
also have to be drawn with respect to the Judiciary since prison
populations going back many years reveal a similar racial disparity.
For the above reasons, a firm conclusion cannot be drawn that
the figures presented in this Report represent racial profiling.
However, having said this, two features of fatal
shootings need more analysis before the charge of racial profiling
of Afro-Guyanese is dismissed completely. Firstly, unless the
majority of crime in rural areas is also committed by Afro-Guyanese,
the number of Afro-Guyanese deaths in rural areas needs explaining.
Secondly, the majority of innocent persons shot by the police,
to whom criminality explanations do not apply, are also of Afro-origin.
Moreover, a troubling charge of racial profiling
of Indo-Guyanese with respect to deaths in custody, needs investigation.
Firstly, the overall percentage of Indo-Guyanese in detention
is significantly smaller than that of Afro-Guyanese. Secondly,
the proportion of Indo-Guyanese deaths in custody is two-thirds
higher than that of Afro-Guyanese deaths. Finally, the overwhelming
majority of deaths in custody took place during the decade of
the 80s when both the political administration and the GPF were
dominated by Afro-Guyanese. Whether or not these factors make
a case for profiling of Indo-Guyanese in custody, or Afro-Guyanese
by fatal shooting, both racial communities do have specific reasons
to be concerned about the consequences of excessive use of force.
Influence of Politically Motivated Violence
Relations between citizens and the GPF have been
poisoned in recent years by politically-motivated violence, particularly
following elections. Political disturbances, often incited by
inflammatory talk-shows, have provoked arson, destruction of property
and personal assaults. These incidents, in some cases, led to
over-reaction by the GPF. Unfortunately such confrontations cannot
be switched off as readily as they can be incited. Police experience
of politically-motivated violence undoubtedly contributes to confrontational
tactics being employed by the police in circumstances in which
they may be unwarranted."
What all of that means is that the death squad
existed since the time of Mr Burnham. The PPP government did not
create it, though it can be blamed for allowing it to continue
in existence. This was because promises of a specially trained
police squad to deal with violent crime were never implemented
and it may have felt that there was no other mechanism at hand.
So it can be blamed, but the case cannot be made, as the intellectual
authors of the African resistance suggested, that the police under
this government deliberately set out to kill young Africans. It
is at the very least far more complex than that.
After 2002 the death squad became less active
and was eventually quietly disbanded. With the criminals running
virtually unchecked with more dangerous weaponry private death
squads were spawned. The proper solution continues to be a specially
trained police squad that operates legally and professionally
and the re-institution of inquests.