Mar 06, 2016 News
The government has given assurances that even though the official Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Camp Street Commission of Inquiry (COI) does not make mention of upgrading the standing orders, the
Commissioners will still ensure that this is done.
This is according to Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, during a press conference at his Ministry on Friday. He was responding to questions of whether the COI would also be looking to what level the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) conform to international standards.
Ramjattan made it clear that while the Terms of Reference doesn’t make specific mention as to whether the standing orders will be upgraded, he believed that the recommendations will fill that vacuum should it be determined as necessary.
“As a general rule (when) Commissions of Inquiry are set up,” Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, also said, “There is always a requirement for them to make recommendations or any other recommendation that may not have been established in the Terms of Reference.”
He said that the COI will also follow the rule of thumb in utilizing what are generally the international best practices in the industry.
“They will make general recommendations to the Minister on any action, whatsoever, that will avoid a recurrence of that situation,” Harmon said.
“You will also recognize from the composition of that COI,” Harmon stated. “(There is) a retired Judge, an expert on Human and Prison Rights and a former Director of Prisons who would have had extensive training and exposure in prison situations not only in Guyana and around the world.”
For years, there have been concerns about the Camp Street prison’s condition. Concerns have been raised about whether the prison was up to par with international standards. There have also been calls for moving the prison, which is in the heart of Georgetown.
All this came into sharp focus over the past few days, as uprisings in the prison resulted in the deaths of 17 prisoners and injuries to other inmates and prison officers. In the wake of all this, a COI has been announced.
That inquiry will be chaired by retired Justice James Patterson, and will have former Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine, and Human Rights Activist Merle Mendonca as members.
The inquiry is tasked to “investigate, examine and report on” the causes, circumstances and the conditions that led to the rioting and all subsequent disturbances at the prison.
It will inquire into the nature of the prisoners’ injuries and will also seek to determine whether the conduct of the Prison Officers on March 3, last, and afterwards was in line with the Standard Operating Procedures normally followed by the officers.
The Commission of Inquiry (COI) is expected to determine whether the prisoners died as a result of the prison officers’ negligence, abandoning their duty, disregarding instructions or inaction on the night of March 2 and the morning of March 3.
It is also understood that the COI is mandated to consider the views of stakeholders such as prison staff and their unions and members of the Judiciary (the backlog and sloth of cases is a primary concern of prisoners).
Staff from the Ministry of Public Health and Social Protection will also make submissions, as well as the Camp Street prisoners themselves and any other stakeholders deemed appropriate.
It is expected that the COI will examine and make recommendations to improve the physical infrastructure of the prison.
He also noted that the existing security arrangements pertaining to how prisoners are managed will be looked at. Recommendations will also be made relating to the appropriate treatment of prisoners in compliance with the law.
Finally, the COI will be looking at making recommendations to prevent any further disturbances.
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