Dear Secretary General,
I wish to draw your attention to a developing crisis in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It involves a shooting incident that has stirred the conscience of our nation and fuelled serious doubts about the administration of justice and the rule of law in the country. It is feared that unless regional and international attention is drawn to it, proper investigation of the matter will be stifled, the truth will remain concealed, and justice will be denied.
It is alleged that on April 13th 2021, Mr. Cornelius John, a local businessman, was brutally attacked and threatened at his home by three assailants. The alleged assailants included two senior public officials, namely Senator and Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Ms. Ashelle Morgan and Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Karim Nelson. A third person remains unnamed. It is alleged that Mr. John was kicked about his body, knocked to the ground, and shot in his leg by Mr. Karim Nelson. It is further alleged that Senator Morgan put a gun to Mr. John’s face and threatened to shoot him if he mentioned her name to anyone.
Mr. John was left on the ground bleeding profusely from the gunshot wound. He was assisted by neighbours and the police and taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair his injured leg. He was discharged from hospital with his leg in a cast and has not been able to work since.
Mr. John complained to the police. (See report). Despite this, it took two weeks for the matter to come to public attention. When it was finally reported in the local media, the Commissioner of Police, Mr Colin John, confirmed that the matter was under police investigation and that Senator Morgan and Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Karim Nelson were persons of interest in the investigation.
Mr. Nelson has taken a leave of absence from his position as Assistant DPP. However, Ms. Ashelle Morgan, who was appointed as Senator on the advice of the Prime Minister and can be removed from that position in a similar manner, has remained a Member of the House of Assembly and the Deputy Speaker.
Prime Minister, Minister of National Security and Legal Affairs Dr. the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves has commented on the matter on local radio. He revealed that Senator Morgan called him after the incident and reported to him. In his comments, he offered possible explanations for the conduct of the alleged assailants that appeared to be in support of the Senator. (iWitness News ). The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Mr. Sehon Marshall, who is the uncle of Senator Morgan has also made public comments that offer an interpretation of the allegations to support Senator Morgan. (See Marshall’s comments.)
In our view, those comments were ill-advised and premature and could well prejudice justice, especially as the matter was said to be still under police investigation. They have fuelled concern among members of the public about the implications they hold for the administration of justice in our country.
As Leader of the Opposition and President of New Democratic Party, I have called for a full and transparent investigation of the allegations. I also addressed the matter during a meeting of the House of Assembly, where the Opposition sought the withdrawal or suspension of Senator Morgan from the House pending the outcome of the police investigation. No action was taken against Senator Morgan. However, for my efforts, I was suspended from the sitting of the House.
During the meeting of the House of Assembly on May 11, 2021, members of the public engaged in peaceful protest concerning the matter. The Commissioner of Police was among the police officers who confronted the protesters. Peaceful protesters were removed from and locked out of the courtyard of the House of Assembly as heavily armed police officers chained and locked the main gate to the courtyard. (See pictures/video of protest)
It has been eight weeks since the shooting incident occurred. Yet, no arrest or detention has been made by the police. This unusual delay has shaken public confidence in the ability of the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate and prosecute this matter in a timely and transparent manner and to ensure that justice is done. It is well known that Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.
On behalf of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I rely on your commitment to good governance, the principles of justice and the rule of law and urge you to look into this matter. We seek to uphold the sacred principles promoted by our laws and democratic traditions that no one is above the law and everyone is treated equally by the criminal justice system.
Further, as a current member of the UN Security Council, St. Vincent and the Grenadines must welcome scrutiny of its own administrative and legal practices to guarantee that they meet the standards of good governance and the rule of law.
I beg you to use the legal and moral authority of your office to inquire into this very serious matter so as to ensure that the administration of justice runs its true course and the rule of law is respected in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In light of the extreme seriousness of the matter I have also written similarly to: H.E. Baroness Patricia Scotland Secretary-General, Commonwealth Secretariat; H.E. Antonio Guterres Secretary-General, United Nations; H.E. Luis Almagro Secretary-Genral, Organisation of American States; Dr. Didacus Jules Director-General, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean State; and Rt. Hon. Anthony Rota – MP President, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association
Honourable Dr. Godwin Friday
Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party