PPP/C, PNC/R must end ambivalence on crime wave -human rights group
Stabroek News
June 19, 2002

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The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is calling for an unequivocal commitment by the two major political parties (PPP/C and PNC/R) to stop taking advantage, directly or indirectly, of the violent crime wave that has gripped the country since the February 23 Mash Day jailbreak.

In a statement on Monday, GHRA asserted that "whether party ambivalence on criminal violence means protecting the Target Special Squad (TSS of the police force), reluctance to move against drug lords, or legitimising criminal violence as some form of freedom fighting, or allowing extreme elements to take advantage of party protests, none of this is acceptable." The statement also said that tolerance of some forms and rejection of others appears to be "influenced by the extent to which they impact on the ethnic bases of the parties, rather than rejected absolutely."

A clear division between the criminal and the political is an essential pre-condition for any form of political solution to emerge, and for this to happen civil organisations should also avoid rationalising criminal violence in a partisan manner. GHRA said that the revelations from the fraudulent visa sales trial of convicted former US diplomat Thomas Caroll in the United States, demonstrate the extent to which the TSS has been criminalised, removing any possible rationale for the government continuing to protect the squad. The US judge in that case had found that the TSS had been used as enforcers in the Carroll scam. One TSS officer admitted involvement, another testified and another policeman was jailed in connection with the scam. The GHRA said that the government's plan to create a new SWAT team is a sensible measure but not a substitute for confronting the lawlessness in the TSS.

According to the GHRA, allegations of the TSS' criminal enforcement also give added urgency to demands for expeditious inquests in order to learn which of the deaths of suspects at the hands of the TSS were defensible and which were not. The local human rights body urged that Shaka Blair's inquest should be given priority. Blair was shot dead by the TSS under controversial circumstances.

GHRA said expeditious inquests are a pre-condition for restoring community confidence in the Guyana Police Force as a whole and failure to move decisively will remove from the ruling party any moral authority for demanding that the opposition distance itself from criminal violence. "For its part, the PNC (PNC REFORM) must disassociate itself decisively and publicly from the extreme elements which continue to take advantage of its public marches and of the situation on the East Coast. Legitimate protest over extra-judicial executions has been contaminated to the point where the response to the issue is more violent than the problem itself, hence PNC criticisms of the ineffectiveness of the police force smack of hypocrisy." The statement added that in addition to the need for the political parties to distance themselves from criminal violence, civil organisations, most notably the media, must avoid ambiguity about violence.

GHRA condemned the television stations which aired the tape featuring Andrew Douglas, one of the five February 23 prison escapees, under the "specious" claim of promoting freedom of expression. "Every aspect of the incident was illegal, allowing a person whose civil rights are legally curtailed by virtue of being a prisoner to express views calculated to incite racial violence while holding an illegal weapon" is "callous contempt for victims of violence and for professional responsibility."

The human rights group said that all civil society organisations need to ensure they are not drawn into the same moral quagmire as the political parties and argued that the "blustering refusal" of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting to take a position on the airing of the Douglas tape illustrated this point. "A perfect opportunity to lay down markers on the issue of incitement in the media was lost," the statement concluded.

GHRA said that both parties could ideally jointly propose a series of measures to address criminal violence which would "allow the security forces to move more decisively against drugs, gun-running, violent robbery and whatever else contributes to the complex criminality engulfing the society."