By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Dec. 1, 2023)
Colin John, the former police commissioner who demitted office less than three months ago, will become the senior magistrate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines today. The decision by PM Gonsalves to nominate and secure the selection of Colin John as senior magistrate indicates that this government willingly pokes its dirty fingers into the eyes of significant sections of the Vincentian population. It thrives on division and strife and has lost touch with the sentiments of the citizenry.
Commissioner John, through the dint of hard work, discipline, dedication and good fortune, has done well for himself. In his 35 years in public service, he moved from police officer to qualified lawyer, assistant Director of Public Prosecutions and police commissioner.
During Mr. John’s five-year stint as top cop, crime and violence, most notably homicides, spiralled out of control. In the last three years, homicide records were shattered, with the nation recording 40, 42 and 51 thus far, with four weeks left in 2023. Our SVG has taken on the unenviable title of the Caribbean Killing Fields and murder capital.
But it is not for these sins that Mr. John won the ire of a large swat of the citizenry. Many saw him as an all too obedient servant of the Gonsalves government. His readiness to hound opposition activists either with police rough house tactics during protests, the swiftness with which he dragged people before the courts on trumped-up charges that fizzled, and his arrogance when dealing with requests for information caused many well-wishers to lose trust and confidence and to sour on his tenure.
Therefore, when John finally left the police in September, the keenest observers among us detected no spat between the prime minister and John but a weak attempt by Gonsalves to appear to be doing something about the frightening homicide situation in the country.
As senior magistrate, John will preside over one of the busiest courts in the country. It will be interesting to see how well he transitions from cop and prosecutor to magistrate. What is a little more disconcerting is how he will navigate cases where he had a prominent role. We can expect him to recuse himself or astute defence counsel to make such requests. The Cjae Weeks Coroners’ inquest, Kension King’s sedition trial, and other such cases come to mind.
Mr. John, a youthful professional in his mid 50s deserves other opportunities to continue to pursue his career path. But this appointment fails the perception challenge. He should not be presiding over cases he and his former police colleagues initiated less than three months ago.
John’s appointment also brings attention to another problem: the tendency of the administration to select former police officers as magistrates. With today’s appointment, three of the four magistrates will be retired or active police officers. In 2016, Bertie Pompey, a former deputy commissioner, became a magistrate. Last June, John Ballah, a former assistant superintendent of police, was appointed magistrate. Up to his appointment, he led the Legal Research and Policy Unit of the police force.
Magistrates’ courts preside and resolve over 90% of the disputes in the country. The danger with having three former police officers as magistrates is that their training and experience do not allow for diversity of opinions. Persons of different backgrounds and training will allow for a broader sociological grasp of the reality that results in conflict and crime.
With the tendency to select former police as magistrates, this government signals a get-tough attitude towards crime and a desire for “police justice”.
War criminal dies at 100
Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State during the Richard Nixon administration, died yesterday at the ripe age of 100. Kissinger will long be remembered as one of the most notorious war criminals who escaped justice for war crimes committed over his long career as a diplomat, security strategist and statesman.
Kissinger was the intellectual architect of the structural adjustment programme intended to bring South countries into the orbit of the United States. He perfected his evil craft in Chile against the elected socialist Salvador Allende. To set the stage for the military overthrow of the Allende government, Kissinger and Nixon directed the CIA to develop a strategy to make the “Chilean economy scream”.
A staunch anti-communist, Kissinger and Nixon presided over the American war machine that resulted in over 7 million Vietnamese killed during the Vietnam War, which ended with America suffering an embarrassing defeat in 1975. Many more Cambodians and Laotians lost their lives in the American bombing campaign in Indochina.
Kissinger’s major diplomatic success was his secret talks with Chinese leaders that led to the split between China and the former Soviet Union. Henry Kissinger’s death today brings new global attention to his front-seat role and directives on many initiatives for which he became famous — détente with the USSR, the opening to China, and Middle East shuttle diplomacy.
This historical record also documents the darker side of Kissinger’s controversial tenure in power: his role in the overthrow of democracy and the rise of dictatorship in Chile; disdain for human rights and support for dirty, and even genocidal, wars abroad; secret bombing campaigns in Southeast Asia; and involvement in the Nixon administration’s criminal abuses, among them the secret wiretaps of his top aides.
That such a man could live to 100 years and be celebrated rather than rot in a maximum security prison is a testament to the level of injustice that rules the world.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].