What is justice? The family of a racing cyclist hit and killed in a road accident is calling for justice. The father of a girl killed in a road accident on the Corentyne is calling for justice. If you dissect what are behind these and other calls for public justice, you will find two common denominators.
Firstly, it is demand for the facts to be determined. Families of victims want to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones. Second, it is for those who were culpable, whether directly or vicariously, to be held responsible. Justice here involves persons being subject to legal sanctions – the guilty must be punished in accordance with the law.
Last Saturday, there was a tragic incident at the Coast Guard Base at Ruimveldt. Ranks were preparing for the fireworks display later that evening. The explosives were in a truck when it exploded. A number of the ranks were injured. One has since succumbed to his injuries.
The family of the now dead solider, like the families of those killed in road accidents deserve justice. They deserve to know the cause or causes of the explosion, who was responsible (if anyone at all for this tragedy) and what punishment would be meted out to them. They also are entitled, in this instance to compensation, even though nothing can really fully reimburse for the loss of a life.
Some egregious mistakes have already been made. Photographs in the media have shown the President visiting the injured ranks in hospital. The President, unlike some of the nurses and doctors, did not have on protective gear which is a routine requirement when visiting burn victims.
No visitors, regardless of rank, should have been allowed. Burn victims have to be kept in a fully sanitized environment since most of them succumb to secondary infection.
A number of prejudicial statements are being made about the incident. It would appear that there is an attempt to impute certain facts rather than await the outcome of a fully investigation.
It is been said that the explosion seems to be a case of spontaneous combustion? But where is the supporting evidence that the explosions were spontaneous? Even spontaneous explosions have to be triggered.
It is also said that the men were experts since they have been doing this for years. The men were assigned to the artillery division of the Guyana Defence Force, which means they deal with explosives related to their military work. But does this make them experts in pyrotechnics?
Pyrotechnics is a specialized field which requires its own specific training. Training for handling pyrotechnics materials is different from that which is usually provided within the artillery divisions of the army.
Those handling pyrotechnic materials should have a sound knowledge of chemistry and physics before they are assigned to be part of any pyrotechnic team. Did the ranks who were transporting the fireworks have such training and were there specific protocols for the removal and transport of such materials? Were these observed?
It is now established that conditions of utmost stability are required for the movement of fireworks because they explode much more easily than normal munitions. Careful protocols therefore have to be developed and observed in the movement of pyrotechnic explosives.
The fact that persons may have conducted fireworks displays before does not make them experts. They have to be certified as pyrotechnics technicians and have considerable experience – something they will never gain on-the-job in Guyana – before they are allowed to be part of any pyrotechnic brigade.
Justice in this case requires an impartial, independent and expert investigation. It is being suggested that the military and the fire service are going to be involved in conducting the investigation into the incident.
The military high-command is an interested party in the incident. It should have no role in the investigation, since it cannot and should not investigate itself. The military high-command would be in a conflict of interest if it is part of any investigation into the incident.
When Walter Rodney was killed, Burnham flew in a British expert. He turned out to have a checkered career of massaging his findings, but he did provide a report which could have been seen as being done by an independent person with no interest in the matter.
There are persons who are trained in investigating pyrotechnic accidents. The government should bring in an overseas expert from the United States to conduct the investigation, and to make recommendations so that not only will justice be served, but also, that an incident of this nature will not recur.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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