Guyana Chronicle
March 22, 2004

Related Links: Articles on race
Letters Menu Archival Menu


Human rights violations are acts of repression. Some researchers found that democracy is positively correlated with repression, meaning that democratic governments are less likely to be repressive than non-democratic governments. Others found that democracy is correlated with economic well-being, a finding authenticated by the status of social and economic rights measured through infant mortality, life expectancy, and literacy. Social and economic rights determining the status of human development extend well beyond the scope of mere economic growth. No wonder we now reject the notion that economic growth precedes political and civil freedoms. In the past, we erroneously believe that a good level of economic growth will produce and protect basic human rights. But this notion has outlived its usefulness. The protection of fundamental human rights must be of specific concern in and of themselves, and should not be seen as a natural outcome of economic development.

Any democratic society can be swayed toward destabilization amid socially irresponsible political groups insensitive to nation building efforts and accomplishments and driven by a tunnel vision of seeking political power through the back door. The literature on human rights refers to this scenario as domestic threats to government. Such reckless and unreasonable challenges may receive responses that pressure human rights.

Democracy, theoretically, thrives under capitalism. But it is within this free market framework that we see some consistently glaring cases of absolute poverty and inequality. The literature shows that absolute poverty and high inequality are positively correlated with repression. Again, the research indicates that capitalism and globalization are indifferent or antithetical to human rights. Clearly, then, capitalism may be necessary but not sufficient to protect fundamental human rights among the disadvantaged. Based on the above, in a definitive sense, the hypothetical causes of repression are domestic factors, as democracy, economic development, civil war, state type, and domestic threat perceptions. What I have indicated so far is a sense of some aspects of the literature on human rights.

Racial incitement

In a letter by Dr. Cheddi Jagan to the Commissioner of Police on June 21, 1963, the following atrocities against East Indians were outlined:

* On May 30, 1963, during and after the funeral of Senator Claude Christian, looting and destruction of East Indian properties and large-scale savage attacks on East Indians occurred.

* On June 11, 1963, a large unruly crowd gathered at the Public Building. The crowd later looted stallholdings in the vicinity of Stabroek Market Square, including savage beatings of defenceless East Indians by gangs just outside the Public Building.

* On June 12, 1963, during the siege of the Public Building, maltreatment of East Indians was clearly observed.

These unruly gatherings and marches were comprised mainly of People's National Congress (PNC) and United Force (UF) supporters and sympathizers. They aggressively vented their displeasure of the PPP Government through unleashing violence on East Indians, bringing the country to a standstill negatively impacting the economy, and placing PPP senior officials to public ridicule. These incidents were allowed to occur largely because the Police Commissioner consistently refused to disperse the disruptive crowds and also refused to seek the aid of the Army, notwithstanding constant promptings from Premier Cheddi Jagan and the fact that the marches and gatherings were illegal. Is this not what is happening today?

In its continuing efforts to topple the PPP Government, the PNC applied the X 13 Plan to unleash a wave of domestic terrorism. The costs were rapes on women, murders, destruction of businesses through fire, and the relocation of 15,000 people. The PNC's insurrection activities would not have been possible without the full support of all opposition parties hell bent on illegally removing the PPP Administration of the 1960s.

The illegitimate intent of the marches and demonstrations of the 1960s was fully unravelled just prior to and during the 80-day strike in 1963, when attention is paid to the intensity of racial incitement and the level of 'no just cause' strike participation.

On March 24, 1963, Burnham, the PNC Leader, asserted at a public meeting in Georgetown, "The PPP plan violence and propose to execute violence...but if they do anything unfortunate we must be in a position to apply the remedy." On March 8, 1963, Burnham accused the PPP of "packing the police force with Officers of Indian descent who form the main support of the PPP" and that "Jagan is giving Civil Service posts to the 'blue-eyed' boys of the party."

To demonstrate the 'no-just cause' support for the strike, look at the President of the Civil Service Association Dr. Balwant Singh's reply when Jagan asked what he saw as objectionable in the Labor Relations Bill as his reason for entering the strike. Dr. Balwant Singh said, "It is not our duty to go into the merits or demerits of the Bill; that is the job of the TUC which has called the strike."

The PNC's insurrection movement was allegedly referred to as X-13 Plan. This Plan already had executed military training and developed plans for the forcible ousting of the Jagan Government in 1963. Police raided Congress Place, the headquarters of the PNC and found a number of rifles, considerable arms, documents outlining assassination plots, extensive military training plans, and bomb-making chemicals. A PNC Committee responsible for effecting the X-13 Plan included Van Gendrine who was directly responsible to Burnham; I. Thomas, Wilson, Smith, and Leacock.

Many civil Guyanese expressed concerns with the goings-on of the PNC in the 1960s. Dr. D.J. Taitt, medical practitioner and founder member of the PNC despatched a letter to the press, saying that Burnham seemed to be opposed to national unity and of taking his supporters "into a blind alley of improvised tribalism at variance with the social and economic realities of the two major ethnic groups of our country, for they were already well on their way to national integration...It is not too late for Mr. Burnham to change his course and lead in the right direction..."

Prolonged racial incitement and the marshalling of extraneous forces in the 1960s were applied to unlawfully remove a democratically-elected Government. Similar logistics characterize today's political environment in Guyana. A 'rule of law' march against the PPP/C Administration, billed to have all the opposition parties and other extraneous groups, took place in Georgetown on Saturday, March 20, 2004. The players' names may have changed, but the illegal intent is the same, that is, to join forces with the PNCR to bring down the PPP/C Government. The PNCR, on its own, does not have the capacity for destabilization. The PNCR needs an alliance of forces, as in the 1960s, to execute destabilization activities. The marches and protests over the years, including last Saturday's, seem to have been prompted by political considerations. These actions parallel the illegal opposition activities of the 1960s.

Human rights infrastructure

The People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration has enhanced its human rights practices in the context of respect for human rights to produce progressive socioeconomic outcomes.

The PPP/C continues to address the question of diversity management and the building of national unity, racial unity, and working people's unity within a strong human rights environment and inclusionary infrastructures in Guyana. Some achievements and proposals in these areas include:

* The Representation of the People's Amendment Bill, No. 1 of 2001 - to proscribe incitement of racial or ethnic violence or hatred.

* The Constitution (Amendment) (No. 6) Act 2001. The Constitution was amended at Article 119A. The Amendment provides for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform.

* The Constitution (Amendment) (No. 4) Act 2001. This Amendment repealed and reenacted Article 13 of the Constitution. The Amendment provides for the political system of the state to set up an inclusionary democracy, enabling citizen participation.

* The Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2001. Article 71 of the Constitution was altered to enable local government to engage many people in governance.

* The Constitution {Amendment} {No.2} Act 2000. This Amendment created five {5} Constitution Commissions - the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), Indigenous People's Commission, Commission for the Rights of the Child, Commission for Human Rights, and Women and Gender Equality Commission.

* The Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2000 amends the Constitution by inserting immediately after Article 212, a number of Articles from 212A through 212F, establishing the ERC, composition, a Tribunal, functions, annual report, and rules.

* The Constitution was amended at Article 119B. This Amendment provides for the establishment of Parliamentary Sectoral Committees, providing oversight to Government policy and administration, including natural resources; economic services; foreign relations; and social services.

* Article 78B was inserted in the Constitution. The electoral system below the Regional Democratic Councils provides for the participation, representation, and accountability of individuals and voluntary groups to the voters.

* Activism of the Women Affairs Bureau whose mission is to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, to promote development of their full potential, and to ensure their integration in the national development of the country. The setting up of the President's Youth Choice Initiative, concentrating on youth development in all ten Regions.

The history of East Indians' human rights experiences and their periodic solidarity with Africans, demonstrating a fundamental unity of their interests, reveal the importance of dismantling the planters' legacy of race and human rights infractions, to construct a national unity where all cultures coexist and are recognized, and disbanding of racial incitement.