Statement from the Guyana Human Rights Association
8th September 2020
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) shares the horror and revulsion being felt across the society at the murders last Saturday of the teenage boys, Isaiah Henry (16 yrs.) and Joel Henry (19 yrs.) in West Coast, Berbice.
The prevailing poisonous political atmosphere has penetrated the society to the point where public trust in an impartial investigation is virtually non-existent.
In view of the circumstances, the GHRA is preparing a formal request to the UN Resident Representative for a visit to Guyana of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions, accompanied by a forensic pathologist.
This call is not intended to cast doubt on the capacity or impartiality of local investigators, so much as a response to the deep distrust accompanying the political polarization of the society.
Both of the main political parties are still operating in elections mode regardless of the cost to the national interest: the APNU coalition refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the elections and the ruling PPP fixated on making them pay for the past five months.
These callous murders are not seen as isolated. Both sides are quick to see them as a continuation of earlier ethnic upheavals –the ‘fine man’ gang murderous massacres on the Indo-Guyanese side and the large number of young Afro-Guyanese males killed in the decade of 2000. Both sides feel accumulated bitterness towards a system that has accommodated such turmoil.
The harsh dimension of the problem is that the more insecure each group becomes, the less capable they appear to be of appreciating the extent to which they share the same fears and insecurity. This incapacity does not reflect an unwillingness to recognize identity of pain and suffering, so much as how to do so as ethnic groups.
Individual Guyanese are not naturally disposed to hate people of other races. Indeed as a small multi-cultural nation we mix more easily than is the case in most societies. However, we have failed spectacularly to translate this gift from individuals to group relations. The simplistic insistence of both parties that they are national rather than ethnic bodies is utterly irresponsible. The need is even greater now for them to help people grieve constructively.
At present there is a vacuum of community leadership, for which responsibility must be shared by both civic and political organizations – the mediators of our interactions beyond the individual level. We can all call for swift apprehension and punishment of the killers. While such calls are inevitable and correct, politically we have nothing else to offer the families and groups most affected by these deaths. We can only put hope in a judicial solution.
But judicial solutions are symbolic and do not purge inaccurate perceptions or address the causes of crime. Nor can we take refuge in platitudes such as ‘time heals all wounds’ or ‘forgive and forget’, as the past fifty years have demonstrated. We remember everything, forget nothing, with time embalming grievances rather than pacifying them.
The Guyana Human Rights Association is calling on all religious, social and political leaders to explore how to build a reconciling dynamic into all of our activities. Without this ingredient, it is difficult to see how we can move the society to more respectful and dignified ways of relating to each other. Business as usual, albeit in a softer tone, is no longer sufficient.
The GHRA is confident that the two major parties have the capacity to bring this crisis to an end and will do all in their power to ensure an impartial, transparent investigation into the recent atrocities that occurred in West Coast, Berbice.
The GHRA also appeals to those Governments and international organizations which sustained an extraordinary interest in the electoral saga that precipitated this tragic event, to sustain their concern by supporting the call for international forensic expertise to accomplish this goal.