The Commission of Inquiry into the July 18 protest which left three persons dead and a number injured reached its high point, yesterday, as Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Clement Rohee took the witness stand before the commissioners and a packed Law Library Room which saw ministers of the government and other government officials and supporters.
|‘A campaign of vilification was brought on me and some of those persons find themselves in and out of this room”-Rohee
Rohee was cross examined by the Commission’s Attorney Mr. Ganesh Hira who sought from the minister his responsibility and relation to the Guyana Police Force (GPF), as the minister detailed his appointment to office which he attained since 2006 and later in 2011 and outlined his responsibilities.
The minister made mention of a request made by the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) for his appearance, and as requested, to answer and give recommendations on the specific Terms of Reference (TOR) made to which he began answering to the best of his knowledge.
The functions as minister in relation to the GPF he stated is in three parts stated in the legislation and relates to the Police Act, Firearms Act, Public Order Act and Immigration Act.
The minister then continued his testimony and categorically stated that at no time did he give specific instructions or directions to the GPF to shoot or for the use of lethal force on the protesters at the Mackenzie\Wismar Bridge on July 18, where three persons were shot dead.
He noted that he was responsible also for the maintenance of law and order of the GPF, as he told the COI that he was briefed on July 17, the day before the protest, by the Commissioner of Police and other Senior Officers including Commander of E&F Divisions Senior Superintendent Clifton Hicken as they outlined the situation at Linden.
This briefing lasted for about 20 minutes and no records were made and the discussion was outlined as regards request of the TSU half unit which the Commissioner of Police indicated would have been deployed.
The minister said that he told the Police Commissioner and other officers to let peace and good order be maintained in Linden as they left his Ministry’s boardroom.
He continued his testimony indicating that he was in communication via telephone with the Police Commissioner during the 48-hour period after the meeting as he was asked about the nature of the conversation and told the COI that he conveyed to the Police Commissioner that he was in receipt of information that the situation had deteriorated in Linden and that he was told that people were killed and sought confirmation from him but he could not confirm same.
He said that it was sometime between 8 and 9 pm on the evening in question that he got that information as the Police Commissioner was not in a position to confirm and told the COI that he had to brief the President, Prime Minister, Head of Presidential Secretariat and cabinet colleagues.
Asked if the information received was sufficient for him to brief those persons he indicated earlier, he said he provided them with the information he had as numerous requests made to him called for constant request, as he kept calling the Office of the Police Commissioner to confirm the information and failed.
Rohee told the COI that after failing to meet the Commissioner by phone he called the Commander of E&F Division Senior Superintendent Clifton Hicken seeking information, which he did provide, some time after he had spoken to the Commissioner to which he cannot say exactly what time and could have been some time after 9 pm.
He told the COI that he wanted firsthand information on what was going on in Linden as he had received information and no one could confirm, to which the Commander confirmed, that the situation had truly deteriorated, and that he was told that persons were injured as to the amount he could not confirm because of the other activities occurring in Linden, fires and blocking of other access roadways.
Hicken provided the minister with a general overview of what was taking place in Linden - being the blocking of the bridge; the police being deployed and came under attack by the protesters; that the police fired tear smoke; explosions were heard; building on fire; access roads blocked, and the SOP was followed by the TSU unit in dispersing the protesters.
He said that he attended a briefing at the office of the president where the President, Dr. Luncheon, government ministers, leaders of the opposition party with Raphael Trotman, Winston Felix, Nigel Hughes and himself as the opposition made a request of Commander of E&F Division to be removed as Commander and be reposted to force HQ and Asst. Commissioner Gavin Primo be his replacement.
This was done with immediate effect as consultation was done with the Commissioner of Police. The minister was drawn to the terms of reference to which he was requested to address and begun making his presentation.
He was asked about the steps taken to review the SOPs, structure, technical capacity, relationship with civilians among others in the force and that the implementation was the responsibility of the Commissioner, as his dealt with the recommendations of policy.
Asked about recommendations for the reform of the Guyana Police Force and if any was made, he told the COI that some were implemented, some work is in progress and some are to be drafted. He continued to outline in detail the recommendations to the TOR as requested and related to the policies of the administration and the government and indicated that the implementation will be that of the GPF.
He spoke of committees of his ministry which have responsibility for the development of the GPF and made mention of them, and detailed other organisations which have responsibility for the development of the GPF.
Outlying the areas of training, he noted that there had been a number of officers who had received training in a number of related areas and today have been serving the force well.
Attorney Nigel Hughes in his cross examination dealt with several areas in which he took the minister through, and sought from the minister if he had any discussions in having the SOPs of the force changed in accordance to the UN standard.
The minister could not recall in a specific answer to the standards but indicated that it was the Force that would have done that and he was aware of some modernization of the force.
Asked about his presentation in the national assembly to that effect the minister could not recall but indicated that if it was from the mansard he would accept.
The question of his instruction to the police, the officers on the day before July 18; mention of telephone calls made from his mobile and land line phones to police officers, the minister asked for the records as he could recall some of the calls and the others to which he declined to confirm.
Political intervention was seen as the motive from the attorneys, as Basil Williams in his cross examination trotted that path, which prompted intervention by the Chairman of the COI.
Meanwhile, outside the High Court saw People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) members and supporters with placards showing their support to the Minister of Home Affairs who will re-appear on the stand this morning to continue cross examination.