There were further reports of violations by the police, including unlawful killings and ill-treatment. Death sentences continued to be issued by the courts, but there were no executions.
In September, the Prime Minister survived a motion of no confidence. According to the press, this was brought mainly in response to the rising crime rate and his alleged role in slowing down and frustrating an inquiry into the operations of the state-owned Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT), which was suspected of corrupt practices.
According to press reports, there were 545 reported homicides in 2008, a rise of about 39 per cent over 2007.
"At least six state witnesses were reported to have been shot dead during the year..."
The growing incidence of violent crime and the failure to bring police officers responsible for abuses to justice continued to undermine public confidence in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. In July, Acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert acknowledged that the Police Service owed the nation an apology for the poor quality of policing experienced by some sectors of society over the years.
Police and security forces
At least 40 people were reported to have been killed by police during the year. In most cases, the police officers involved in the killings claimed they acted in self-defence. However, in some cases, witness testimonies suggested the killings were unlawful.
- On 8 October, Russel Samuel was shot by a police officer in La Canoa Road, Lower Santa Cruz. Residents who witnessed the shooting claimed that he was shot in the back while on his way to cut grass, thrown into a police vehicle and then allegedly shot three more times in the abdomen. Police officers claimed that Russel Samuel was caught brandishing a gun during a police operation and that he fired at them when ordered to drop the weapon. The incident sparked outrage among residents and led to protests. An investigation into the shooting was continuing at the end of the year.
Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by members of the police and military were reported.
- There were several allegations of beatings and unlawful arrests of residents following “operation lock-down” conducted by soldiers in Richplain, a neighbourhood of Diego Martin, in June. The legality of this operation was widely questioned as it was not clear under what powers the army was acting.
In its annual report, submitted to the Senate in April, the Police Complaints Authority recommended an amendment to the Police Complaints Authority Act 2006, in order to clarify its powers. No action had been taken by the end of the year.
There were reports of shortages of judges and lawyers. Systematic intimidation and the frequent murder of witnesses, combined with a low detection rate for violent crime, contributed to the diminishing number of serious cases reaching trial. At least six state witnesses were reported to have been shot dead during the year, heightening concerns about the adequacy of the witness protection programme.
Ten people were sentenced to death.
In August, 52 prisoners had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment by the High Court on the basis of a ruling by the UK-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that anyone sentenced to death who had spent more than five years on death row should not be executed.
In December, Trinidad and Tobago voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.