Human Rights body condemns Patterson for role in ‘Grenada 17’ trial
…as pressure continues to bear down on GECOM Chairman to resign
Amid heavy criticisms over the unilateral appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the Guyana Human Rights Authority (GHRA) has now brought new information to the public’s attention about the alleged involvement of retired Justice James Patterson with the infamous “Grenada 17” trial of which he had a heavy hand in, while serving in the judicial system on that island.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the GHRA made reference to the United States’ (US) invasion of Grenada in 1983, which led to a trial of the surviving 17 alleged ringleaders – known as the “Grenada 17”. The trial was held by a group of Attorneys and Judges appointed and paid for by the US, according to a sworn
affidavit of Ramsey Clark, the former US Attorney General.
The GHRA reminded that aspects of the trials were dominated by the US Administration which generated widespread international condemnation. It was noted by Clark that the trial was not presided over by any constitutional court or other tribunal of the island of Grenada. Following the trials, all records were removed to the US and access to them has been extremely difficult ever since.
The human rights watchdog recalled that there were many disturbing facts about the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of the defendants in this matter. A number of witnesses were interrogated and documents seized. Most of this material was never made available to counsel for the defence. And the selection of Judges was a very serious violation of commonly accepted notions of due process of law.
During that period, there were also reports that the jury was picked with no effort to probe for prejudice and no defendant or defence counsel present and without cross-examination. Further, the GHRA noted that motions to ensure a proper and fair jury were not heard until the trial court was ordered to do so for the third time nearly three years after the convictions, among a long list of other human rights violations.
But significantly also, the GHRA claimed that among the Judges associated with this infamous period of Caribbean history was Justice Patterson. He along with other Judges who participated in this matter at that time, found no fault with the serious violation of accepted notions of due process of law.
But the GHRA did not stop there, the organisation pointed to the request for access to a wide range of documents related to the trials by US-based academic, Dr Richard Gibson, who filed a Freedom of Information (FoI) request following a visit to Grenada in 1996. He managed to gain access to some of the documents and later released some information on the case trial.
In Dr Gibson’s writings as stated by the GHRA press statement, it revealed that a US political officer reported meeting with the Chief Justice of Grenada and that individual had related that the hangings of the Grenada 17 defendants was expected to take place in 1988. Importantly, this discussion took place when the Chief Justice had a motion pending before him that was capable of nullifying all of the convictions.
The GHRA also noted that the report revealed the extent to which the US Government was supervising the legal process, down to supervising and exerting clear influence to have the trial record produced. Meetings were held with the Chief Justice and there was regular contact with the secretary of the Chief Justice to get the matter moving. This level of interest is truly amazing, according to the local body.
The GHRA highlighted in its press statement that the human rights dimension of this case was not only disgraceful on the part of the ‘judicial actors’, but it also allegedly involved Patterson who has now been elevated to one of the most sensitive posts and constitutional offices in Guyana.
“Moreover, national elections in Guyana are the subject of intense interest and require frequent inter-action between the Commissioner, contending parties and the diplomatic community. The extracts from the official documents quoted above encourage the conclusion that when confronted with the interests of a foreign power Justice Patterson could not be relied on to keep his own counsel or maintain the impartiality or discretion required in a Chairman of GECOM,” the body opined.
GHRA said within the general context of Justice Patterson’s suitability for the GECOM post and in light of the foregoing an additional question must inevitably arise. “Is a person who has never disassociated himself from being at the centre of an episode which tarnished the reputation of the Caribbean judicial community for a generation a ‘fit and proper’ person to be Chairman of GECOM?”
Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had filed an injunction in the High Court to rescind the appointment on the grounds of unconstitutionality. The injunction is seeking a declaration that Justice Patterson is not qualified to be appointed in provision with Article 161-2 of the Constitution of Guyana.
The PPP had raised concerns about Patterson’s alleged alignment with the major party in the coalition Government, the People’s National Congress (PNC). The party claimed that he is an active member of a PNC-related website and was also a pallbearer at the funeral of former President Desmond Hoyte.