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George Bacchus

Killings by an alleged death squad and sexual violence against women were pinpointed in the annual Amnesty report on Guyana's human rights record last year.

The Amnesty International (AI) 2006 report on the state of the world's human rights took note of the killings by a death squad involving serving and former members of the police force, as well as the growing cases of sexual violence against women.

The report noted that in April last year, a Presidential Commission of Inquiry found no evidence of "a credible nature" linking former Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj to the activities of an alleged death squad. In June, bowing to international pressure, the Minister resigned. The report did note the claims of several witnesses failing to appear before the commission because of fears for their safety. No one appeared before the commission voluntarily.

Also, in August, the High Court overturned a decision of a lower court judge to charge, what the report describes as "an alleged hit-woman" with the June 2004 murder of George Bacchus. (Debra Douglas, one of two people committed to stand trial for the murder of Bacchus, was freed after a High Court judge agreed that her committal to trial was wrong since there was no evidence against her. Her co-accused was also freed eventually.)

The report noted that the killing occurred days before he was due to testify in a case related to the death squad killings.

Additionally, the killings of five people between August and September last year were attributed in the news media to death squad activities, AI said.

The failure of the justice system to bring a vast number of cases of sexual violence against women to trial was also highlighted in the report. AI noted the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) report issued last year, which found that there were only convictions in nine of 647 rape cases reported from 2000 to 2004. It also found that the incidence of sexual violence against women had risen by 30% and there was also a 16-fold increase in statutory rape cases during the same period. In addition, only three percent of rape cases filed over the studied period resulted in trial, an occurrence blamed on the "deficiencies and weaknesses in the justice system" by the report.

AI also noted Guyana's retention of the death penalty, though no executions took place. Twenty-one people - 19 men and two women - remained on death row.

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