Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Tivoli: Let’s seek the truth

Published:Sunday | December 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM

One reason why I am an academic, and not a lawyer, politician or policeman, is because, for us, the concept of an 'inquiry' involves the pursuit of not just information, but truth. Four years ago, the American government sent a warrant for now-convicted kingpin, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. Despite the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, an unrelenting USA needed for him to be extradited by the hook or the crook.

What we do know is that after a poorly disguised Coke was caught and shipped off, what was left in his wake was a clergyman who prophesied hurricanes in the past but could not foresee his own capture; a prime minister who gambled his political future and rode off into the moonrise; and more than 70 bodies and allegations of how they died.

I resist the often-careless use of the term 'victim' because the word implies that I have already determined the result of the enquiry and other investigations.

Over the past years, a Tivoli Committee was established, ostensibly, to obtain justice and redress for loss of property and injuries and other types of excesses and abuse at the hands of the security forces, and the hirsute Lloyd D'Aguilar became its partially visible face.

Let me make it clear: Police, or any deputised security forces, whether under a state of emergency, martial law or any other condition of governance, have a responsibility to protect the lives of all whom they come into contact with. The question of how D'Aguilar, an uptown liberal, could become the mouthpiece of the Tivoli residents is an important one because within that community, I am sure there is at least an 'articulate minority' that is well capable of speaking with intimate detail about the goings-on during the military-led operation into that former 'city-state' with its own president.

Never mind the emotional youngster who was shot or the middle-age woman whose amusing testimony was a shot in the arm; or the entrepreneur who found the whole thing too 'taxing'. Tivoli has produced lots of graduates who could do better than the recalcitrant and pointless cameo made by D'Aguilar.

Even those persons without the benefit of Instagram and Twitter could have seen that he was pushing his luck, like an unregistered handcart, and was just as likely to be ejected. Like a broken main, he kept flowing comments and asking questions despite myriad warnings to desist. If it was his intention to participate and help defend the cause of his 'clients', he should have kept his asking under control.

The only logical conclusion was that D'Aguilar wanted to find a good reason to show the chairman his posterior because any reasonable man would have anticipated being booted. This baited 'deportation' from the enquiry is a betrayal of the claimants.

I want to know who killed the 70-plus persons and shot the young witness and others, and why. There's only one thing I like about firearms, and it is that each has a unique 'fingerprint' like humans and chimpanzees. While it can be disputed as to when or where someone was beaten and by whom, if at all, every bullet that finds a place in the body of a human, whether dead or alive, can be traced back to its unique barrel.

Therefore, even if well-armed Tivoli militia had identical firearms as the army, including Chinese-made duplicates, entry-level ballistics tests could easily identify the gun or finger the shooter. Where are the ballistics reports?

An interesting subtext in this matter is the request by the army and police for immunity. Maybe I'm stupid, but isn't innocence the best immunity from prosecution? The implicit statement that is being made when one asks to be indemnified against legal action or criminal charges, is that the petitioner admits that he might have committed a crime and he is now willing to tell the truth only if he won't have to face the consequences of his guilt.

It is also noted that the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has suggested that charges may very well emanate from the proceedings. True, it might seem that it is poaching, but no policeman or soldier has anything to fear from INDECOM if he did right.

The United Nations, the army and the constabulary have essentially the same use-of-force policy. If the security forces in a democracy take a course of action that ends with the death of civilians, they must legally have followed some fundamental rules and guidelines.

The UN's Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials dictates: "... Officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority ... and only when less-extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives."

Other international conventions temper that discretion with the proviso that in discharging his weapon, the shooting officer "believes that the force employed creates no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons". There are circumstances under which the use-of-force procedures still result in the deaths of persons who were not involved in any altercation with the security forces.

Words such as 'misadventure' and 'accidental' or 'inadvertent' are mitigating terminology that still place responsibility on the part of the agent of the State. In such situations, while there might not be the basis for criminal action, the State has a liability and must compensate the innocents who now can be appropriately called victims.

This is what I want to find out: People died. People got shot. And there was damage of property. That is irrefutable. Let us keep our minds on who did it and why.

n Dr Orville Taylor, winner of the 2013-14 Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism, is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline @hotmail.com.