Press Release

IACHR Condemns Murder of Senior Counsel of Trinidad and Tobago

May 9, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of Dana Seetahal, senior counsel and former independent senator of Trinidad and Tobago. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to fully investigate and prosecute this crime and punish its intellectual and material authors.

Dana Seetahal was murdered on May 4, 2014, after midnight, while driving her car. The crime was committed by an unknown number of perpetrators that were driving two vehicles that pulled in front of hers and opened fire directly at the attorney’s upper body. The perpetrators escaped from the crime scene. The investigators and the police have not established a clear motive for Seetahal’s murder, however they believe it was a well-planned and coordinated hit.

According to publicly available information, Seetahal’s murder could be linked to her work as prosecutor in several high profile cases. Additionally, the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan stated that the prosecutor was supporting the State with important and sensitive work on a number of legislative measures to help with the fight against crime and improve the administration of justice.

The IACHR welcomes the actions taken by the police to investigate the crime and took notice of the declarations made by the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan expressing concern over the death of Dana Seetahal. The Prime Minister said that an emergency meeting of the National Security Council was convened and that urgent attention will be devoted to necessary reforms in the criminal justice system and security issues connected there with.

The IACHR calls to mind that it is the State's obligation to proactively investigate acts of this nature and punish intellectual and material authors. In particular, the Commission calls the State of Trinidad and Tobago to conduct an investigation that takes into account whether Seetahal’s murder was committed in retaliation for her work as a prosecutor. The Commission also urges the State of Trinidad and Tobago to immediately and urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the rights to life, integrity, and safety of human rights defenders in the country, particularly of justice operators.

The IACHR notes that an assault against a justice operator because of his or her functions is a particularly serious matter, not just because it is assault upon a justice operator’s person but also because it has the effect of intimidating and instilling fear, which can spread to other justice operators. The risk is that cases involving human rights violations could go unpunished.

In this sense, acts of violence and other attacks perpetrated against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees that every human being must enjoy, but also seek to undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those for whom they fight defenseless. The work of human rights defenders is essential to building a solid and enduring democratic society, as they play a leading role in the pursuit of the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 52/14