Police Commissioner Vernon Francois Monday said his “conscience is clear” as human rights lawyers reacted to a report of an investigation conducted by Jamaican police into alleged extra-judicial killings by members of the St. Lucia Police Force.
At least 12 people were killed by police during the period 2010-12 as they reacted to an unprecedented wave of homicides and violent crimes between 2008 and 2010.
Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony in a radio and television broadcast on Sunday night said that the investigators had found that a “blacklist or death list” existed and that the police had staged “fake encounters” to legitimize their actions.
He said the investigators had recommended that “all police officers involved in the unlawful killings of citizens in respect of the files reviewed must be prosecuted”.
But Francois denied suggestions that he had turned a blind eye to wrongdoing by his officers even as the report suggested “willful blindness” by the Commissioner and “particular members of his management team”.
Francois, who is now on vacation leave, told reporters that he jealously guards his integrity and is not involved in anything remotely corrupt or unlawful.
“I was hoping that we would have been at the stage where definitive statements would have been made about dealing with the situation as it relates to the government of St Lucia and the United States, but we are still at the stage where a lot of unproven allegations are being made,” the Police Commissioner said.
According to Francois, there was need to move beyond the stage where people are still “staying in the dark under the bushes” and making allegations.
“It is time to provide evidence,” he said, citing the need for the laws of natural justice to be set in motion.
Francois said that in his role as Police Commissioner, he is not engaged in supervising police investigations.
“If there is a police related shooting I do not get involved in the investigation and the files would be referred to the DPP,” he said, pointing out that at no time in the matter had there been any complaint to him suggesting that something had gone wrong and challenged anyone to come forward with information that he was told about irregularities and did nothing about it.
“My conscience is clear,” he added.
In 2013, the St Lucia government enlisted the help of the Jamaican police to investigate the RSLPF following a decision by the United States to withdraw security related assistance after claims of human rights violations.
In August 2013, Washington suspended all forms of assistance to the RSLPF, citing allegations of serious human rights violations.
“The Department of State has made a policy decision to withdraw training and material assistance to the Royal St Lucia Police Force due to credible allegations of gross human rights violations,” the US State Department said in a statement then.
As a result, Francois was prevented from travelling to the US to represent the Regional Security Service (RSS) at a conference of Black Police Chiefs.
In his address, Prime Minister Anthony said that the report, a copy of which has been sent to the United States, would not be made public.
He said that his administration would not be making any statement regarding the guilt or innocence of the police officers involved and “the question whether anyone is to be prosecuted is solely for the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine after evaluating and assessing the probative value of the evidence placed before her.
“Likewise, it is for the courts to pronounce on the innocence or guilt of any person who may be charged. The most that the Executive Arm of the Government can do is to provide the resources to the Director of Public Prosecutions to carry out the duties and the responsibilities assigned to her by our Constitution. A copy of the report has now been made available to her.”
But human rights attorneys Martinus Francois and Mary Francis said they were disappointed with the contents of the report and the decision not to release the document to the public.
“It said very little,” said Francois, the brother of the embattled police commissioner, accusing the government of double standards.
He said on the one hand the administration appeared to be concerned about human rights, while at the same time the report on the investigation into the alleged extra judicial killings had been “hidden away” from the public.
Francois said that the address by the prime minister was lacking in substance.
He also accused Prime Minister Anthony of passing the buck, in announcing that the report will be passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Victoria Charles-Clarke for action.
Francois felt the DPP was already overburdened and asserted that a special Prosecutor should have been appointed.
He said the United States would not be impressed by the actions of the St. Lucia government.
“St Lucia will continue to be mired in that unsavory situation,” Francois told reporters.
Francis, who is representing the families of two men allegedly shot and killed by police during the infamous “Operation Restore Confidence” said she is disappointed that the government had decided against making the report of the investigations public.
“As it is right now, I am very disappointed. I am not happy with state of affairs,” Francis told the St. Lucia News Online (SNO) Monday as she responded to the alleged 2009-2011 extra-judicial killings report.
Francis said that she was not pleased with the tone of the report and the fact that it will be kept classified.
She promised a further response later, indicating “there are so many things that came out of the report…”
The human rights attorney, who is also representing the families of two of the men killed, said that the families need closure.
“The report should also tell us who bought these high-powered guns,” she said.
Meanwhile, the leader of the small opposition Lucian Peoples Movement (LPM), Therold Prudent, is accusing the government of hiding behind the report that probed the death of the 12 people.
“We don’t believe what Dr. Kenny Anthony has said to us is the whole truth. We do not believe that anything would become of the report now that it is sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)<’ he said, accusing the government of reneging on its responsibility to the population.
“Unless the government decides to be forthcoming with the people of St.Lucia and allowing us the citizens of this country an opportunity to judge for ourselves, we have to accept that there is something dapper than what the government has told us,” he said.