witness: Former government minister John Humphrey leaves the Caribbean Court of Justice on Henry Street, Port of Spain,
yesterday, after testifying in the 1990 Attempted Coup Enquiry. —Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY
Humphrey: A 20-year lie
‘I never co-operated with the Muslimeen’
John Humphrey yesterday categorically denied that he advised to Jamaat-al- Muslimeen to have the amnesty drawn up during the attempted coup of 1990 be put in writing. Humphrey said for 20 years he listened to reports on radio, television and newspapers to this effect.
“I never did any such thing,” he told the Commission of Enquiry into the attempted coup of 1990.
Humphrey identified the source of the confusion.
“We negotiated an agreement, the whole agreement was put into writing. Mr Robinson signed a resignation. ... They prepared a document for the president to prepare the amnesty ... An agreement had been reached and Winston Dookeran was released (from the Red House) to execute the agreement.
“About four days later, when in fact we should not have been there at all ... We should have been freed ... I am called to the meeting that is being conducted by Selwyn Richardson, where he is negotiating with Bilaal Abdullah to precept 15 Muslimeen members. Bilaal Abdullah was insisting on 25 and Richardson had agreed on 15. And I said ‘you better put that in writing’.”
Under questioning from Attorney to the Commission, Avery Sinanan SC, who told Humphrey that it was stated that it was he who raised the idea of an amnesty in the first place, Humphrey said: “It was me who referred to the Constitution.”
He added that a copy of the Constitution had been brought to the negotiating team.
“And you referred to the Constitution in what context?” Sinanan asked.
“In all contexts,” Humphrey said, stating that his issue was “how the Constitution is framed to deal with a situation like that and what does the Constitution say about bringing an end to a situation like that”.
“And also a pardon?” Sinanan enquired.
“That’s what it says,” Humphrey replied.
Humphrey stressed that the Muslimeen were not given an unconditional pardon and it was left to the Government to determine if an amnesty was to be granted, what the conditions would be and that was done. “I’m alive today from that determination ... and Helen is certainly happy. My wife of half a century,” he said, elaborating for the benefit of the commissioners.
Humphrey also responded to allegations from other witnesses—namely Arthur NR Robinson and Joseph Toney—that he appeared to be co-operating with the Muslimeen. He said the extent of his “co-operation” was to hook up a phone connection so that the injured Robinson would not have to be moved from the Chamber to the tea room, where there was a phone to speak to persons on the other line.
Humphrey said he remembered sitting on the floor and seeing a young, strapping Muslimeen man put the injured Robinson on his back, and walk out of the chamber into another room and bring him back. He said when he asked Abdullah what was going on, he replied that they had taken him (Robinson) to use the phone to speak to Yasin Abu Bakr at TTT.
Humphrey said he had run so many telephone lines at home, “having a daughter and grand-daughters, they virtually live on the telephone”, and “I think he (Robinson) was hurting”, so he asked Abdullah to let him go and look for telephone wire so he could bring the phone to Robinson “so he (Robinson) wouldn’t have to go through that inconvenience”.
Humphrey said his restrains were removed, he went around the building pulling out telephone wires and had to strip the plastic with his teeth to make the connections.
“That was the extent of my cooperation with the Muslimeen. Mr Robinson mentioned I was ‘co-operating’ and another witness said he even thought I was one of them. I mean, my God! How could they think such a thing!” Humphrey exclaimed.
On Toney’s statement that he offered gratuitous advice to the Muslimeen, which made him (Toney) wonder which side he (Humphrey) was on, Humphrey reiterated that he was the one who mentioned the Constitution and if there was anything “in the Constitution that would help us concretise” the end of the crisis.
However, Humphrey said he appeared to have been the only one to have taken the agreement made with the Muslimeen seriously.
“I was taught to do that,” he said, adding that the government side apparently had no intention of living up to anything that was agreed.
Humphrey said he was subsequently told “by people who should know” that when the amnesty document was being prepared, senior counsel were invited to assist in ensuring that the document would not stand up in court.
“I can’t understand a government acting in that way,” he said.
Asked by Sinanan whether the fact that the government negotiators were under duress was not a factor in determining whether such an agreement such be honoured, Humphrey said: “I don’t understand the question ... How can a State be under duress? Explain that to me ... In a negotiation of that sort, duress is no excuse to breach the agreement. No, I can’t accept that.”
Humphrey said he was eagerly awaiting the evidence by the leaders of Muslimeen to state to why the attempted coup happened, noting all they asked for was for Robinson to step down. This seemed unnecessary, he said, because in democratic politics if people demonstrated sufficiently, the leaders would step down as happened in Egypt and was now happening in Libya.
“And it may happen here because I see the doctors want to demonstrate as well,” he said.