The "Grenada 17"
Following a dramatic breakdown of relationship within the leadership of the People's Revolutionary Government; and the New Jewel Movement, the ruling political party of the Government, members of the armed forces of the Caribbean and USA intervened Grenada on October 25, 1983 and in course of conducting military operations in the island arrested 18 individuals associated with the Bernard Coard faction of the fractured PRG leadership, including Coard himself and his wife Phyllis Coard.
These 18 individuals were detained by the US and Caribbean forces and handed over to Grenadian authorities who eventually charged them on 22nd February 1984 for the murder of Prime Minister Bishop, Jacqueline Creft and others, and for conspiracy to murder, alleged to have been committed on October 19, 1983.
These 18 were subsequently tried for the above offences in a trial that became a regional (Caribbean) cause célèbre and a matter of international notoriety. Their conviction in 1991, commutation of their sentence (the death penalty) to life imprisonment, pursuant to appeals for clemency by local, regional and international bodies; and their incarceration thereafter, have been well known and documented; and their steadfast assertions of innocence and unfairness of their trial contrived to create waves of upheaval among the otherwise now stable Grenadian society.
The Commission, for several reasons, did not meet with the "17" even though the Commission was willing to do so, and communicated this clearly, expressly and repeatedly to the "17" as well as to relevant Government authorities, they being the Hon. Prime Minister and Minister of National Security and the Commissioner of Prisons. The "17" were reluctant to meet with the Commission but later relented and offered the compromise of the Commission meeting with their legal counsel, Mr. Keith Scotland., Attorney-at-Law of the Bar of Trinidad and Tobago and of Grenada.
As regards the judicial process relating to the "Grenada 17", there have been several constitutional motions on their behalf in the Courts of Grenada and in the Courts of Appeal and Privy Council to free them and to annul and declare their trail unfair and to leave their convictions quashed; but none of these have so far succeeded in securing their intended objectives.
They claimed, inter alia, at various times and in several submissions at the trial, and in the motions and appeals, that the Court in which they were tried and convicted was unconstitutional; that the trial was unfair, that the Court of Appeal hearing was flawed and no written decision of it delivered; that they have been unjustly denied access to the normal legal processes available to other Grenadians, particularly as regards their being prevented accessing the judicial committee of the Privy Council; and (the final Court of Appeal for Grenada) deprivation of their right to do so by Act 19 of 1991 which barred persons convicted before the passing of the Act from appealing to the Privy Council.
Despite their assertions to the contrary, the Commission was at all material times available to meet with the "17" and is satisfied that the failure of the several reasonable efforts it made to do so, was not of its own making. But be that as it may, the Commission was pleased to meet with Mr. Scotland on their behalf. receive the memorandum dated 20th May 2002 which he submitted and presented to the Commission and which he ably and willingly discussed with the Commission.
The memorandum, representations and proposals of the "17" were in the following summarised respects:
- Their disapproval of what they conceived as disregard by the two-man committee appointed to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of their personally communicated willingness to participate in its proceedings, including giving full evidence and facing cross-examination once it was clear that truth and reconciliation were really the objectives behind the exercise
- Their displeasure with riot receiving any response from the TRC whose appointment emanated from the preparatory work of the two-man committee, including no response from the Commission when it was set up; requesting access to legal counsel.
- Their understanding that the established T.R.C. of 2000 gave them cause to think that their freedom was linked to the process of that Commission and was related to a national broadcast by Prime Minister Mitchell on January 1st, 2000 in which he said that his government would soon set up a process to allow persons imprisoned as a result of past political events to free themselves.
- That it was intimated to them by the then Attorney General that they should not proceed to legal action against the State on the issue of their freedom because the T.R.C. would be set up for the purpose of freeing them; while the subsequent delay in establishing the T.R.C. constituted a device to prevent them pursuing legal action.
- That the present T.R.C. (appointed in 2001) was also not amenable to meet with them.
- That while they were nevertheless prepared to fully participate 'in a genuine T.R.C. process' they preferred to pursue legal options and requested the T.R.C. to suspend its sittings pending the current and imminent legal actions.
- That the substantive memorandum with its attachments be included in the Commission's Final Report.
This memorandum with its attachments are included in Volume 2 of this Report.
It has to be noticed and considered for acceptance that the Commission is not a court of law; is not empowered or disposed to pronounce determinately [sic] on the guilt or innocence of any person within the period or during the course of its enquiry. But at the same time the Commission should be concerned with the consideration that any reconciliatory process or any efforts to promote such process, would be severely hindered if persons who are important to the involvement evolution of this process harbour grievances or discontent which, rightly or wrongly, they feel that such grievances or discontent are not being adequately addressed by those who manage or promote the reconciliation process.
There is no doubt that many of the atrocities and violation of human rights which the eventual leaders of the revolutionary Government condemned before coming to power in 1979, were duplicated and in some instances surpassed during the regime of the P.R.G. after they assumed political and governmental power.
The preachers of freedom and liberation had become the practitioners of the very kinds of oppression they had previously condemned and the oppressed then became the oppressors. Torture, compulsory confiscation of property, arbitrary detention, imprisonment without trial; deprivation of freedom of expression and association; inflicting of bodily injury and inhuman and degrading treatment; these were similar to many of the well known abominations which characterised the Gairy regime from which the New Jewel Movement and the PRG had liberated the Grenadian people. These were some of the root causes of political turmoil during the period 1976 to 1983; and of course, it is well known, also, that the "Grenada 17" were part of the leadership elite of the New Jewel Movement or the P.R.G.
It is pertinent to quote at this point, the graphic observation of Bishop Tutu, Chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in his foreword to the South African Commission Report:
A venerable tradition holds that those who use force to overthrow or even to oppose an unjust system occupy the moral high ground over those who use force to sustain that same system... This does not mean that those who hold the moral high ground have carte blanche to the methods they use.
To free or not to free
But the "Grenada 17" are not on trial before the Commission and in any event the Commission cannot lawfully presume, nor does not want to embark upon any excursion into, the deeds or misdeeds of the "Grenada 17". To do so would be to enter into the preserve of the judiciary and to usurp the powers of forensic functionaries.
However, the Commission cannot be disregarding and dismissive of their representations made to it in the memorandum of 20th May 2002 submitted and presented to it by legal counsel Mr. Scotland. In particular, their persuasive complaint that their guilt and conviction were determined on the basis of an unfair trial.
Legal counsel may make weighty submissions about the fairness or unfairness of a trial; learned judges may pronounce with equal gravity upon these submissions. But when all is said and done, the crucial test of a fair trial is whether the man or woman condemned at the end of the trial is satisfied that he or she has no good reason to cry foul; that justice was not only done and seen to be done, but also felt by him or her have been done.
It is in the context of this perspective, therefore, and having regard to the need for both victims of wrong doing and the alleged wrong-doers to feel satisfied that justice is done to their respective causes for reconciliation to take place, that the Commission would prefer to see the State provide an appropriate opportunity for the "Grenada 17" to access existing or established Courts within the legal system and which would studiously ensure the process of fair trial, regardless of the outcome.