The government stands indicted on the matter of extra-judicial killings
Stabroek News
March 5, 2002

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Dear Editor,

The Guyana Human Rights Association's (GHRA) report on fatal shootings by the Guyana Police Force captioned "Ambivalent About Violence," was recently released. It renews the debate on extra- judicial killings. We must hail the GHRA for producing what seems to be a well documented report on these killings. However, if the report is to be beneficial to the nation we have to objectively and critically examine some of the conclusions contained in the report. Stabroek News in its editorial of Saturday, February 23, 2002, fell far short of achieving this goal. It failed to offer any criticism or refer to obvious areas of weaknesses in the report.

I wish to make it clear that I have not as yet had the privilege of reading this report. The observations I am making here arose out of my reading of Stabroek News' report of the launch of the GHRA document on 20.2.02. and its examination of the last 21 years primarily for two reasons: (1) To show that these problems had a history before the PPP/C came to power; and

(2) To say to the PNC/R that your record on these matters was no better than that of the PPP/C. To use Guyanese parlance it is a case of "pot telling kettle yuh bottom black."

The report seems to be motivated by a desire to refute the claims by the African Guyanese community that there is a steep rise in extra-judicial killings and that these are directed mainly towards African Guyanese and that these killings are politically and racially motivated. SN's editorial of 23.2.02 lends support to GHRA's position. The editorial said "it successfully dismantles the theory that a particular race is being targeted and makes the point that since urban crime has given rise to this particular evil, the urban population (predominantly Afro Guyanese) is more at risk." SN's conclusion is the classical one, which takes the police killings. And since it is African Guyanese killing African Guyanese there is no targeting. This approach ignores the political aspect of the problem.

During the PNC rule and more so in the Burnham administration the political opposition that included the PPP made the argument that the regime encouraged extra-judicial killings and police violence in order to create an atmosphere of fear in the society. This served a dual purpose of allowing the government to claim that it is fighting crime and at the same time allowed the state to have a posture that was threatening to people and the political opposition.

The big question is, was this claim by the opposition correct? My view is that it was correct.

What is the difference between what took place then and the present attitude of the PPP/C regime? The PPP/C came to power in 1992 amidst African Guyanese protest, which on occasion became violent. This problem continued with every subsequent election held in Guyana. Like the Burnham regime, the PPP/C has made the political decision that the survival of its government depends in a large way on its ability to get African Guyanese police to suppress African Guyanese political protest. That is the old colonial tactic of divide and rule. Another reason for the PPP/C encouraging the police to carry out extra-judicial killings is that in so doing it is able to say to the Indo Guyanese community that it is taking action against criminal elements to protect Indo Guyanese. To deny this is not to deal with the Guyanese reality.

The African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), has been pointing out the political and racial nature of extra-judicial killings by members of the Guyana Police Force, in an effort to stop the government from playing this dangerous political game. In a statement on the Brian King killing ACDA said, "in Guyana today, African Guyanese face racial discrimination and severe economic hardship but ACDA believes that extra judicial killings of African Guyanese people is the single most important factor that undermines and breeds distrust in an Indian-dominated government." In our deliberations on this matter, we concluded that some foreign governments and international agencies have embarked on a well-orchestrated plan to discourage African Guyanese from protesting against PPP/C rule. One consequence of this policy is that institutions that help to shape public opinion are now organised to deny that the present government encourages these killings and that these killings are politically motivated.

GHRA presents the problem as an institutional one, which had long gotten out of control because both the previous and the present governments failed to act decisively to stamp out police violence. It cited the two governments' failure to hold inquests for citizens killed by police action as well as their failure to bring criminal charges against offending officers.

The SN editorial stated, "There is also no evidence of a "Mafia" don for whom these executions are being performed, if indeed, any of them are ordered killings." Is this an attempt to deny the allegations that some of those killings are ordered and paid for by renegade businessmen? I was told that the report calls for ending the present practice in which the Guyana Police Force accepts money from individual businessmen. Why? It is because this practice has created a conflict of interest and exposed officers to all kinds of unofficial demands and responses. Of course the evidence will only come out when the police force and the nation is truly liberated.

I disagree with SN's assertion that, "over time psychopaths have infiltrated the ranks of the Guyana Police Force." A more objective examination will show that these psychopaths are the creation of the police force. If the GHRA's report has failed to show how many incidents of killings individual police officers were involved in SN's editorial also failed to ask this question. This is not incidental. In any democratic society in which the rule of law is being upheld officers with a record of a number of killings would have either been put in jail, thrown out of the force or assigned to duties where they would not have had to deal with weapons. But in Guyana the opposite prevails. The more an officer demonstrates a zeal for killing, the greater are the encouragement, privilege and protection for that officer.

A major weakness of the GHRA's report was dealt with by Mr Ronald Waddell in a letter published in the SN, February 26, 2002 under the caption "Police killings per year have increased under this government." In that letter Mr Waddell demonstrated how the GHRA had manipulated its statistics to avoid an indictment of the present government for the sharp rise in police killings.

The GHRA has done itself an injustice by allowing its work to be influenced by the political agenda of foreign governments and international agencies who are on a self-appointed mission to compromise the African Guyanese community and to protect the PPP/C government.

Yours faithfully,

Tacuma Ogunseye