Feb 26, 2014 News
– Over 100 witnesses to be called
– Army stands ready to cooperate
Almost 34 years after his death, a team of international jurists has been selected to probe the killing of politician/historian, Dr. Walter Rodney.
Yesterday, the members of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) were sworn in by President Donald Ramotar with the army shortly after announcing its intention to fully cooperate.
Chairing the CoI will be Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham, with the other members being Guyana-born, Trinidad-based Senior Counsel, Seenauth Jairam and Jamaican Queen’s Counsel, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown.
Jairam has been practicing in Trinidad and Tobago since 1979 and is now head of the Bar Association in that country while Samuels-Brown is the Chairperson of the Council of Legal Education (CLE).
Shortly after the ceremony at the Office of the President, Head of State, Donald Ramotar, said that the Rodney family has been petitioning him to bring closure to the incident by ordering an independent inquiry.
Speaking with the media, Sir Richard Cheltenham assured that while there may be misgivings over the time that has elapsed, over three decades, the reality is that all is not lost.
He drew comparison to a current inquiry in which he is part of in Trinidad that was probing a 1990 coup incident there with over 100 witnesses who were recalling details. Several pieces of documentary evidence were also submitted.
In Guyana, the Commission of Inquiry is also likely to take testimonies from over 100 witnesses.
The Chairman made it clear that it was too early to go into details, as the members will be meeting shortly with the secretariat which was established since last July.
Statements have already been taken.
“They will advise how ready they are in the process of evidence-gathering and how many witness statements they have prepared, and if not, how soon they are likely to have enough prepared so that the inquiry can be started.”
The Commission will be sitting in two-week intervals until the inquiry is completed, with the sessions open to the public. The official did not rule out permission for live coverage, with the necessary details being worked out.
Meanwhile, the CoI members met with the army’s leadership yesterday at Base Camp Ayanganna. Present at that meeting were Chief of Staff (CoS), Brigadier Mark Phillips; Deputy CoS Colonel Kemraj Persaud and other senior officers.
According to the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Phillips congratulated the Commissioners on their appointment, citing that the Commission of Inquiry was long-awaited by the Guyanese people.
The army also briefed the team on the intelligence apparatus of Guyana, “and, to this end, assured the members of the commission of the Force’s assistance and co-operation. The members of the Commission also highlighted their commitment to bringing closure to the matter.”
An inquiry ordered by former President Desmond Hoyte in 1988 which found Rodney’s death caused by “accident or misadventure” was met with disbelief in some quarters, with burning questions continuing over the past 33 years over the incident, which has remained a dark stain on the country’s history.
Last June, the Office of the President announced it was preparing for the Commission of Inquiry.
The announcement came on the heels of the 33rd death anniversary of the slain activist.
ALLEGED ARMY ROLE
Dr. Rodney was killed on June 13, 1980, when a bomb exploded in a car in which he was an occupant. He was 38 years old at the time.
His brother, Donald Rodney, who suffered injuries during the explosion, alleged that a former GDF electronics expert, Sergeant Gregory Smith, had given the politician the bomb that killed him.
It was alleged that Smith planted the bomb in a walkie-talkie that blew up on Rodney’s pelvic region while he was on John Street, Werk-en-Rust, between Hadfield and Bent Streets, less than 100 metres from the Camp Street Prison.
Smith died of cancer 11 years ago in French Guiana where he had gone to live, after he had fled Guyana.
The army had distanced itself from Smith saying he was never a serving member.
There have been claims that Rodney’s assassination was set up by the government of Forbes Burnham, whom Rodney was opposed to. This was because his assassination came at the height of a planned civil rebellion against the Burnham-led administration.
But Burnham’s party, the PNC, has firmly denied playing any part in the bomb blast killing. There have been widespread accusations and finger pointing over the years.
In 1974 Rodney returned to Guyana from Tanzania. He became increasingly active in politics, founding the WPA, a party that provided the most effective and credible opposition to the then PNC government. In 1979, he was arrested and charged with arson after two government offices were burned.
Rodney had traveled widely and became very well known internationally as an activist, scholar and formidable orator.
After his assassination, Rodney received several honours. In 1993, the government of Dr Cheddi Jagan posthumously gave him the country’s highest national award, the Order of Excellence, and the Walter Rodney Chair in History was established at the University of Guyana.
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