Bishop Singh urges civil society to take lead for peace, stability
Stabroek News
July 11, 2001

Roman Catholic Bishop Benedict Singh is appealing to civil society at large to lead the way in ensuring that each sector of Guyanese society plays its role in ensuring peace and orderliness.

"This will be no easy task but the sooner we begin, the quicker we will reap the rewards," Bishop Singh noted in a "Letter to the Faithful" released to the press yesterday.

Focussing on the "burning issue of violence" in Guyana, the Bishop of Georgetown declared that "ensuring that we return to peace and stability cannot be left solely to our Police Force, even though they need to play an important role."

He contended that there must be shared responsibility by all "if we are to confront the high levels of violence in our society."

However, Bishop Singh emphasised that the government must be willing to take decisive action.

"The frequent announcement of studies and plans are a familiar refrain. Often resources, which can be directed to tackling ills, are squandered on these laborious studies and plans, which in many instances never come to fruition. While these studies do have their value and can lead to a better-managed response, they must never be such as to convey the impression that they are as important as the steps we can and must take as Guyanese to respond to and solve our own problems".

He also stated that the authorities must be open to suggestions and should not disregard political advice tendered by adversaries if they have merit.

Bishop Singh observed that the level of violence here escalated following the recent General and Regional Elections, but that is not a new trend since it follows a pattern of heightened violence accompanying elections.

He described as "inexcusable horrors which ought not to have happened" the senseless acts of murders, and the numerous acts of robberies, vandalism, arson and assaults that were committed.

Persons of all races and classes suffered from the violence of the past months, the Bishop noted, and "one can also discern in many cases a pattern of targeting select sections of the population."

According to Bishop Singh, the response to this instability has to be forceful but humane. "It calls for a collective response from all, not the least of whom are our politicians who in no small way contributed to the tragedy that beset the nation."

Pointing out that the time has come for Guyanese to reconcile their differences, the Bishop said that this cannot occur unless there is a general recognition of how their actions or inaction contributed to the present situation.

Expressing deep personal sadness at the unrest that ensued in the weeks that followed the elections, he said that Guyanese must all bear a collective shame for the occurrences when innocent persons were set upon and property destroyed.

The Roman Catholic Bishop also asserted that "there can be no moral justification for the use of force to make political points or to strengthen one's hands in negotiations. This is totally unacceptable and we wholeheartedly reject it."

The option of dialogue, he observed, is the true and best way to peace. "Dialogue, we repeat, normally takes longer but its benefits tend to be more lasting."

In a "Letter to the Faithful" just before the elections, the Bishop recalled, he had stated that the future development of Guyana "hinged upon the willingness of the losers to accept defeat and upon the generosity of the victors."

Positing that the Catholic Church has been consistent in its denunciation of all forms of violence, including abortion and capital punishment, Bishop Singh noted that while physical violence commits an injustice to the bodily integrity of humankind, no less harmful is the mental anguish of the victims of crime and those who live in fear.

"The Catholic Church is not insensitive to the victims of violence. We embrace in solidarity all those who suffer as a result of violence. Our thoughts are especially with those who lost loved ones," Bishop Singh said.

He noted, however, that the Church has been strident in its criticism of revenge since this constitutes an equal affront to the dignity of the human person.

And the Church also condemns extra-judicial killings, he said.

"It is the duty of the State to ensure that the legal right to force is not abused and that the existing statutes which provide for inquests into deaths are scrupulously observed," Bishop Singh stated.