CPO Mistakes Remain Under The Rug
Posted June 7, 2009
At the 2009 Mayapur GBC meetings, a resolution proposal was introduced aiming at reviewing and restructuring the functions of the Child Protection Office due to serious errors in adjudication.
Q: I understand you and some other devotees proposed a GBC resolution for the 2009 Mayapura Festival involving the CPO. Could you explain what the resolution was?
A: The proposal had two parts. The first was to suspend the CPO functions of investigating and trying ISKCON child abuse cases for one year. That was to happen only in countries where civil authorities carry out the same functions. The CPO's function of educating devotees and congregation members would continue.
The second part of the proposal was to create a panel of experts to review the policies and procedures of the CPO. The panel was to be independent of the GBC and make recommendations for the Mayapura meeting in 2010. Those recommendations were to be directed at improving the CPO functions of investigating and trying ISKCON child abuse cases. They were also to address how past CPO errors would be handled.
Q: Who was involved in drawing up the proposal?
A: Lakshmi Nrsimha prabhu, Dharini devi, an attorney in private practice, and myself. Sesa prabhu presented the proposal to the GBC.
Q: How did you come to the conclusion that such a proposal was necessary?
A: Lakshmi Nrsimha prabhu asked us to review some files from an old CPO case. When we did, we were alarmed to find a host of glaring mistakes, bad procedures, and conflicts of interest. As a result, we became convinced that the person had been wrongly convicted.
Q: Could you say more about the errors?
A: There were so many. I'll just cite some of the big ones. We found the CPO kept evidence from the defense. We found people whose testimony could have exonerated the accused weren't even interviewed, despite the CPO having been informed. We found evidence that could have exonerated the defendant had been ignored without explanation. We also found the CPO used questionable pseudo-scientific procedures that have no proven validity to gain a conviction. And these were the errors for just this one case.
The CPO trained the "judges" themselves. That's like the prosecution training up the judge and jury. The trial was run without even following the CPO's own rules. Although the CPO was supposed to be functioning free of GBC influence, that just wasn't the case. We believe these things made the whole procedure function like a kangaroo court.
Q: What happened with the proposal?
A: My understanding is the first part of the proposal was dismantled by the GBC Deputies committee even before it was presented to the whole GBC.
Q: Why do you think that happened?
A: My sense is there were a few vocal GBC members with a strong stake in the CPO who didn't want the details of the CPO's mistakes known to the others. It's a little like the recent US government attempts to keep messy information from the public.
I also believe they didn't understand the fact that in the US, as in many other countries, the functions of the CPO are, for the most part, already being carried out by civil authorities. Our position was it was unnecessary and legally unwise for the CPO to try to duplicate those functions.
In fact, in the case above, the civil authorities did investigate at the time of the alleged offense and concluded there was no case to pursue.
Q: What about the second part of the proposal?
A: The GBC was presented with the second part of our proposal and decided in favor of having an independent review body. That review body's responsibility will be to make future CPO procedures and decisions less faulty and biased, which is a good thing. However, it will have no authority to review past CPO mistakes.
Q: So the GBC recognized the need for the CPO to be improved, likely due to past problems, but didn't provide a way to address the errors the CPO has already made?
A: Exactly. If I remember correctly, the words they used to describe the faulty CPO procedures were "irregularities" and "anomalies." It seems as though they wanted to avoid using the word "errors", probably for some legal reason, but it amounts to the same thing. Bad decisions.
Q: What is your position now?
A: I believe it is important for devotees to be informed about how the CPO has made decisions, particularly in the above case. We tried to work through the system and avoided public discussion out of deference for the GBC. We are disappointed our whole proposal wasn't discussed and debated. That way the scope of past and present CPO errors had a chance of being aired, recognized, and understood. As it stands now, that may never take place.
We want to give devotees a chance to see the evidence and make their own decision. We believe any reasonable person who examines the facts of the case will conclude it was a gross miscarriage of justice. We also wonder about the effectiveness of a governing institution when it stands by as the conviction of a devotee arising from such a miscarriage of justice continues to be recognized, even when those errors have been clearly pointed out and documented.
To the full GBC's credit, they made a reasonable decision given the information they actually received.
Q: If someone wanted to get further information, what should they do?
A: They are welcome to read the entire proposal, its background, and history of the CPO Resolution. They can also send questions or comments to VPjustice@hotmail.com.