This has not been a great week for the Royal St Lucia Police Force. Accused by the international press of botching an investigation into the death of a British woman in Saint Lucia and now a Human Rights report released by the U.S. Department of State on its website brings to light the several unresolved police killings that took place in 2011.
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 also cites the constraints of the Director of Public Prosecutions office and the treatment of prisoners as among St Lucia’s human rights concerns. The United States report on Saint Lucia is especially interesting when juxtaposed against allegations early this year and last year that police officers were being denied U.S. travel visas because the U.S. was investigating the department over the killings. Police Commissioner Vernon Francois has since come out to deny this allegation, stating that the relationship between the local police force and the U.S. was a sound one of mutual co-operation.
The report, however, states that St Lucia’s “most serious human rights problems included reports of unlawful police killings, abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, and long delays in trials and sentencing.”
The other human rights problems, stated the U.S. included corruption, violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination against consensual same-sex sexual activity.
The U.S. noted that “although the government took some steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses, the procedure for investigating police officers was lengthy, cumbersome, and often inconclusive. When the rare cases reached trial years later, juries often acquitted, leaving an appearance of de facto impunity.”
Under the section, Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom/ Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life the report states that although the government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, “there were 12 potentially unlawful fatal police shootings during the year, some reportedly committed by officers associated with an ad hoc task force within the police department. The Criminal Investigations Department conducted investigations and referred cases to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for review.”
The U.S. stated that cases referred to the DPP were all in varying stages of review; three were pending coroner’s inquests, and the DPP had the rest under review. The U.S. gives the new government credit for taking steps to expedite investigative processes and review of these cases.
St Lucia’s record for resolving such cases was also highlighted with the U.S. citing “only limited progress in the DPP reviews and other investigations of unlawful killings dating back to 2006.”
Stated the report: “Authorities reported two police shootings from 2010 and one shooting from 2009 as still pending in the coroner’s inquest process. In March authorities brought the case of a police officer charged with manslaughter by recklessness for the fatal shooting of Stephen Flavius in 2006 to trial; the officer was found not guilty. At year’s end the trial of a police officer charged with manslaughter by recklessness in the 2008 fatal shooting of John Garvy Alcindor was before the court for trial.”
Under the segment in the report titled Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, it states that “citizens filed a number of complaints against the police, most of which were for abuse of authority. On at least four occasions, police were alleged to have shot men during an arrest or during a neighborhood sweep operation. Limited information was available regarding official investigations of complaints pending in various stages of review from earlier years; the DPP is responsible for filing charges in such cases but was unable to monitor their progress due to limited resources and manpower. A woman’s claim that police raped her while in custody in 2010 was under investigation; according to the police the woman was unable to identify her alleged attackers, and the DPP preliminarily ruled there was insufficient evidence to file charges. Although the government sometimes asserted that independent inquiries would be launched into allegations of abuse, the lack of information created a perception of impunity for the accused officers.”
The process of justice in St Lucia also came in for criticism with the U.S. stating that, “Although the government has institutions and procedures in place to investigate abuses by the security forces, these efforts have been ineffective overall. For instance, although authorities referred many cases for investigation and prosecution, prosecutions were rarely completed, and cases remained in investigation without conclusion for years. Lack of adequate human resources in the criminal justice system (prosecutors and criminal magistrates), delays in the judicial system, the reluctance of witnesses to testify, and strong public and political support for the police contributed to the overall inability of the government to address allegations efficiently.”
Other incidents to do with last year’s that made the news at home also made it into the report.
Under Section 4. Official Corruption and Government Transparency the report St Lucia’s laws do not adequately deal with corruption of public officers.
On its website the U.S. state department explains that the information in its reports are acquired “using information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, and published reports. U.S. diplomatic missions abroad prepared the initial drafts of the individual country reports, using information they gathered throughout the year from a variety of sources, including government officials, jurists, the armed forces, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.”
More next week!