GHRA calls for end to inflammatory language, violence

Guyana Chronicle
April 16, 2001

THE Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has congratulated President Bharrat Jagdeo for his restraint and commitment to dialogue with the main opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R), noting that inter-party talks give an opportunity to address the real problems in Guyana.

In a weekend statement, the association equally applauded PNC/R leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte's decision to go into discussions with the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) alliance.

President Jagdeo has, on numerous occasions, called for and reiterated his commitment to genuine dialogue with Mr Hoyte and the PNC/R and representatives of the two leaders are to meet tomorrow on the agenda and arrangements for the talks.

The GHRA called on supporters of both parties to follow the example of their leaders in seeking rational and peaceful solutions to the current crisis.

"If the current violence is indeed fuelled by a perception that Afro-Guyanese are indefinitely excluded from any prospect of governing the country by virtue of racial arithmetic, then this should be a priority item on the agenda for the talks," it said.

That the government of the country should be determined by the size of ethnic segments of the population ought to be intolerable to everyone, not simply to Afro-Guyanese, the GHRA argued.

It said that while Afro-Guyanese are making the most forceful case, everyone is affected by this issue, whether original inhabitants or latecomers.

"While the rest of the country can be persuaded to the legitimacy of Afro-Guyanese rights, they should not be asked to accept them in the guise of exaggerated and unproven claims, nor to the exclusion of the legitimate rights of others, not by arson, assaults, threats and insults," the GHRA stated.

The association expressed optimism that the talks between the leaders will hopefully create the possibility of examining Afro-Guyanese claims to exclusion in a constructive manner.

"If the talks are to reassure a skeptical nation, the PNC/R must cease using inflammatory language and also find a formula for condemning the violence of those who masquerade as its supporters," the group said.

The GHRA said whether the PNC/R's silence to date is dictated by its stated priority of "keeping the party intact", or the more chilling prospect of another priority "negotiating from a position of strength in the upcoming talks", it is unacceptable.

It also noted that, in particular, the unwillingness of the PNC/R leadership to disassociate itself from Channel 9 talk-show hosts who promote what sounds disturbingly close to "ethnic cleansing" is deeply troubling.

According to the GHRA, at a rally in Georgetown two Saturdays ago, the PNC/R leadership stated that the tempo of its treatment of the PPP/C will change from `slow fire' to `more fire'.

Fires then raged, leaving 20, mainly Indo-Guyanese businesses and three private homes razed to the ground and numerous poor people homeless, it noted.

The GHRA further pointed out that on Wednesday evening a PNC talk-show host called on people `to light up Georgetown'.

"Early the following morning one of the older business properties in Georgetown was burnt to the ground; St George's Anglican Cathedral, the tallest wooden structure in the world saved from an arson attack and another of the oldest churches, St Thomas Presbyterian, was saved from fire by public-minded citizens."

The GHRA said, "albeit for short-term electoral purposes, the PNC/R leadership nurtured a monster in the talk-show hosts."

"To strengthen public confidence in the success of the upcoming talks, the GHRA is calling on the PNC/R leadership to distance itself from any taint of `ethnic cleansing' by ensuring Television Channel 9 is no longer made available to the inciters who speak in its name."

The association said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should also protect individuals and the general public against threatening and slanderous attacks and incitement to public disorder and violence.

It also stated that, for different reasons, President Jagdeo should consider appointing independent chairpersons to the three state media outlets - GTV, GBC and the Chronicle.

The GHRA said while the state media is not in the same league as Channel 9, its bias is a genuine irritant which should be recognised and redressed.

The GHRA suggests they be appointed by the same method used to select the Elections Commission Chairperson, by inviting the Leader of the Opposition to submit lists of names from which the President appoints the chair and in addition, seek more impartial membership on the boards.

Shut down TV stations that spread malicious rumours
- Muslim group urges

THE Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) feels the fuses being lit daily to the incendiary of racial hatred will not all fizz out and must be stopped.

In a weekend statement, the Muslim organisation said any television station that permits people to call for burning down Georgetown, shooting the Commissioner of Police, and promoting malicious and vicious rumours must be closed down now.

"If some of us cannot distinguish between freedom of information, sedition, anarchy, lies and propaganda, then we must close all television stations," the CIOG declared.

"There is no alternative", it said.

The CIOG said the proposed political dialogue must also include civil society as of now, especially religious organisations.

After 45 years and the last two weeks, the Guyanese people can no longer await cooperation between the two major political parties, it said.

According to the CIOG, it is obvious that the disturbances and insecurities being witnessed merely consolidate the ethnic political divide for both sides.

It repeated the position taken by the Muslim community in their submissions to the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC), and which was thrown out by the Oversight Committee, that a commission be set up to examine the working and recruitment of the security forces, the civil service, judiciary and the elections commission with a view to ensuring that they reflect the ethnic composition of the society and giving confidence to each sector in the society.

The CIOG is also urging that the CRC be recalled to address the improvement of race relations issues in this country, as they and the two main parties have signally failed to do.

It also called for an immediate "Declaration of Emergency" and for President Bharrat Jagdeo to use his constitutional power to "silence the racists and the seditious and immediately stop their agitation and manipulations of our peoples".

In a separate statement, the organisation said incalculable harm was being done to Guyana and Guyanese and the "loss of life, the damage to our commercial buildings, our people's jobs, our taxes, etc. is obvious".

But according to the CIOG, the damage to the psyche of the two major races is diabolical.

"Buildings can be rebuilt, but the damage to the psyche of the races can explode the entire nation."

"Demagogues are deliberately stoking the flames while others, (not unlike criminals who hide in the crowds), are tempted to remain silent with a view to profit", it said.

The CIOG also reminded Muslims and all other Guyanese that God nailed racial prejudice as the embodiment of all evil.

"Satan himself became Satan when he said `I am better than you Adam and I will not co-exist and cooperate with you because I am made from fire and you from clay'," it pointed out.

The CIOG reminded Muslims that "Afro-Guyanese need Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese need Afro-Guyanese".

"Our hearts, Indian, African and all must go out to our fellow Guyanese and the children of those who are losing their lives, their livelihood and their homes from these senseless fires erupting like sores on the fair face of our capital city," the CIOG added.

The religious body also reminded the Government and the security forces that their primary responsibility is to protect the Guyanese people and their property.

It said "road blocks against peaceful passage and no-go areas are a spiral out of control, and as such are unacceptable".