A new standard of inhumanity Editorial
Stabroek News
July 25, 2003

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Now that the killing has stopped on the East Coast Demerara and the deaths have been tallied, the incalculable damage to human and social relations caused by the sixteen-month-long “Terror” could be contemplated. On the one hand, the atrocities of the criminals deeply wounded several villages and families and left an indelible scar on society. On the other hand, the Guyana Police Force was cited in the United States Department of State’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Guyana for 2002 for continuing “ to commit unlawful killings.”

In reality, the 2002 Report reads very much like the 2001 Report, suggesting that no significant progress had been made over the past year. Admitting, however, that the authorities did take steps to investigate abuses, the Human Rights Report felt that, in general, “Public investigations rarely were conducted into such killings; in general police abuses were committed with impunity”, and the unlawful killings, and abuse of suspects continued to be a problem.

Particular mention was made of the police killings of Tshaka Blair (6 April); Wesley Hendricks (10 May); Kwame Pindleton and Leroy Lowe (25 July); Dexter Dubisette (21 September); and Shawn Welcome (11 October) while he was in custody. At least in one case, the Report records the opinion of some that the Blair killing was carried out as “direct retribution” for the murder of the commander of the Target Special Squad Superintendent Leon Fraser four days earlier.

Since March 2000, the UN Human Rights Committee claimed to have made 22 recommendations to the Government, including a call for prompt investigation by an impartial body of police killings and excessive use of force and called for measures to ensure the prosecution of offenders and to provide effective remedies to victims. This was not done at the time, however, and the killings continued. During 2002, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) reported that the police killed 24 civilians, about one per fortnight, in most cases shooting ‘suspects’ while attempting to arrest them for some alleged crime. This year in June, the GHRA again added its voice to the outcry against killings with the shooting to death of six more men by the GDF and GPF in a joint operation in Friendship Village. The killings raised questions about the Forces’ modus operandi given that, in the GHRA’s words, “all six died; no one was wounded; no one gave themselves up; and no one was arrested”, and created the impression that the joint operation was planned as a hunting trip. Since the police were unable to identify four of the men they killed, it was clear that the victims, who included two pre-adults, could not all have been ‘wanted’.

The killings during “the Terror” both by the security forces and the criminal elements, and later by the shadowy ‘phantom’ paramilitaries, seemed aimed at eliminating as many of the other side as possible, setting a new low standard of inhumanity. Human bodies were found displaying marks of torture and mutilation before being disposed of in grotesque conditions, on a roadside or in some other public place, clearly aimed at attracting maximum media coverage for the outrage.

There should be concern that “the Terror” has already triggered intense racial hatred, both among Indians, who were largely the victims of killings by mainly African criminals, and among Africans, who were largely the victims of killings by the police and the paramilitaries. Groups on both sides of the ethnic divide felt aggrieved by the killings and, for the country as a whole, confidence in the Administration’s ability to ensure public safety and the security forces’ ability to bring “the Terror” to an early end, were badly battered.

It would be a mistake to assume that, because the shooting has stopped, the coast is clear and all is well. The resort to recrimination and “direct retribution” killing has not disappeared. Some action by the Central Government and the Regional Administration needs to be taken to restore normal human relations and repair the damage wrought by the most savage wave of violence since Independence.

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