Death and Death by Violent Means3623 30 Jul, 2012
Ms. Selman: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise on behalf of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to support the motion standing in the name of the Hon. Member, Brig. (Ret.) David Granger, which seeks to condemn the killing of and the injury to several persons at Linden, Upper Demerara Berbice Region on Wednesday 18th July, 2012 and to demand the resignation of the Hon. Minister, Mr. Clement Rohee, Member of Parliament (MP), Minister of Home Affairs.
The Hon. Minister Robert Persaud quoted extensively from His Excellency President Donald Ramotar and indicated that the President undertook to do everything within his Government’s remit/power to assist the residents during this difficult period. One would have thought that a natural concomitance to this pronouncement would have been the announcement of the immediate secession to the imposition of the draconian increase.
These times are reminiscent of the dark days of our past, immortalised in the writings of our national poet Martin Carter:
“This is the dark time...
It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears.
It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery
Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious…”
This is a true reflection of the current, objective situation in Linden. I wish, on behalf of A Partnership for National Unity, to convey our deepest sympathy to the families of Shemroy Bouyea and Ivan Lewis, both of Wismar Housing Scheme, as well as Ron Somerset of Amelia’s Ward- the three unarmed persons who were shot and killed by police at MacKenzie, Linden during a peaceful protest on Wednesday 18th July, 2012 in which standard operational procedures were not followed by the police, including the use of minimum force to disperse the crowd, but rather lethal fire was open causing deaths and injuries to several persons. May the souls of the persons who were shot and killed rest in peace.
It was a sad twist of irony that these actions occurred on the birthday of that great fighter for peace in the world, Mr. Nelson Mandela. While in other parts of the world peaceful protesters are the new faces of change and the voice of enlightenment and indeed have brought about many changes in Governments. In Guyana, these hapless persons are gunned down and wounded like wild animals.
In 1948, sugar workers were killed by the colonial police and today, in Guyana’s history, they are referred to as the Enmore Martyrs fighting as they were for their economic rights. I submit to this National Assembly that our three brothers in Linden who were also fighting for their economic rights shall, from this day onwards, be described as the Linden Martyrs and thereby occupy a prominent position in our ongoing struggle and history.
In 2011, protesters did not just voice their complaints; they changed the world. In 2011, the Times Magazine named the protester as person of the year to emphasise the prominence and special status accorded to such persons, a decision that honours Middle East protesters who toppled governments as well as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. The magazine depicted its person of the year as a protesting silhouette on the front cover of the issue. The article also devotes a large chunk of space to the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in Manhattan’s financial district that summer. Protests have fallen out of fashion as an effective political tool the last 20 years according to Times writer, Kurt Andersen, who wrote the article in an interview posted on the Magazine’s website. Not only did protest come back in this big, globally contagious way in 2011, but we saw two regimes and counting coming down.
Anderson, and Times Managing Editor, Richard Stengel identified the Arab Spring as one of the first events that gave rise to a trend:
“It’s remarkable how much the protest vanguards share. Everywhere there are disproportionately young, middle class and educated. Almost all the protests this year [in 2011] began as independent affairs, without much encouragement from or endorsement by existing political parties or opposition bigwigs.”
The magazine goes on to predict that the protest movement would not stop with the conclusion of the year. We, in Guyana, must take serious note of these developments. What should also be of grave concern to us are the twenty-odd persons who were injured, who must be suffering severe pains and a concomitant of this is the many family members of these twenty-odd persons who must also be suffering. What is even more tragic is that some of the persons shot were on their way home from work and, as such, were not even involved in the protest activity. The use of excessive force by the police must be condemned.
On 22nd November, 2011, the United States condemned the police excess of force in Egypt following deadly clashes with protesters that threatened the country’s legislative elections. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said:
“We condemn the excess of force used by the police, and we strongly urge the Egyptian Government to exercise maximum restraint, to discipline its forces and to protect the universal right of all Egyptians to peacefully express themselves.”
She further added:
“While all parties in Egypt need to remain committed to nonviolence, we believe that the Egyptian Government has a particular responsibility to restrain security forces and to allow the Egyptian people to peacefully express themselves.”
The taking of human life has been strongly condemned by most world religions and philosophies over the centuries. International human rights law has in turn sought to uphold this most sacrosanct of rights in a number of treaties. The right of an individual is clearly protected from being arbitrarily taken by the states. This is enshrined in Article 138 (1) of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana which states:
“No person shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of an offence under the law of Guyana of which he has been convicted.”
The execution of those unarmed civilians certainly violates the spirit of the Constitution and, in my view, those actions were ultra vires and the perpetrators and their superiors must be held accountable and responsible.
Every citizen has the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 40 of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Today, freedom of expression or freedom of speech is recognised in international and regional human rights law. The right is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Any form of killing is unjustified. No one deserves to die in such circumstances. In addition, international treaties, declarations and committance determine standards for the protection and the right to life, and these include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, Article 3, which upholds the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, Article 6. This main international treaty on civil and political rights is very specific about the right to life and the death penalty. Article 6 (1) states:
“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
Violence used by police can be excessive despite being lawful, especially in the context of political repression.
Guyana has a population of less than one million persons and it appears as though Guyanese’ right to express themselves is under siege by some members of the Guyana Police Force and under this Minister’s watch especially. Excesses by unprofessional members of the Guyana Police Force under the Hon. Minister Clement Rohee are not new. This is the very Minister who appeared ambivalent in dealing with the issue of torture of a citizen while in police custody and this included torture by members of the Guyana Defence Force on a 14 year old young man. It took the media and the joint Opposition to nudge them into action. This is the same Minister of Home Affairs, Minister Rohee, under whose watch the shooting took place of the APNU protesters after the 2011 General and Regional Elections and who has since done nothing to assure citizens that these excesses by the police will be mitigated. It was left to the then injured protesters to file private criminal charges. Until a Commission of Inquiry pronounces on this matter, it will not be known whether the police action was bad policing and misjudgement or whether this was part of a carefully orchestrated plan to ferment a crisis in Linden and disturb the peace and stability of our country.
Consequently, the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) Administration should not object to our conclusion that it condones and/or approves the shooting of citizens engaged in peaceful protests. How could it be explained that the Administration sent to Linden the same ranks who shot the APNU marchers a few months ago in Georgetown. It is abundantly clear that those ranks went to Linden to do exactly what was done in Georgetown. How else can one explain the findings revealed by the pathologist that bronze, coated bullets were extracted from the bodies of the three murdered martyrs and not rubber pellets as claimed by the police and the PPP/C Administration? Is the Minister responsible for what transpired on Wednesday 18th July, 2012? Is the Minister aware that it is the same officer who is linked to the killing at Lindo Creek? Did the Minister of Home Affairs give the directions that men be shot? I have heard these things and it is for the Minister to disprove or shed light on these. People are saying that the Minister of Home Affairs gave the directions. However, Minister Rohee is a Hon. Member of this National Assembly. That notwithstanding, the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility...
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, the questions and issues being raised by the Member are not in this House. We are not before Commission of Inquiry. The issues being raised have no place within the motion. The motion is saying – as I understand Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger’s motion – that he is asking for a vote of “No Confidence”. If the House wishes to have inquiry powers, then the House itself could form a special committee to investigate. The questions being asked and the issues being raised point as if this is a trial and this is not correct.
Mr. Speaker: I will not uphold that as a Point of Order. The speaker was voicing questions that exist. I will say this as an observer: they are actually, in my mind, raising – I was pointing out to my assistant – the answer. Perhaps these questions should be left to a Commission of Inquiry, but there is nothing stopping the Member from asking those questions and there is nothing stopping the person doing the rebuttal to point out that the very questions should form part of the Inquiry and indeed need to be asked and answered. I see nothing wrong with the Member asking them.
Ms. Selman: That notwithstanding, the doctrine of ministerial responsibility or individual ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments used in the West Minister system - that a Cabinet Minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of his or her Ministry or Department and the Minister of Home Affairs is authorised under the Police Act, Cap 16:01 to issue general orders and direction to the Commissioner of Police for the commanders and superintendants of the Guyana Police Force. Where there is ministerial responsibility, the accountable Minister, and in this case Minister Rohee, is expected to take the blame and ultimately resign. This means that if corruption or any other misbehaviour is found to have occurred within his Ministry or under his watch, Even if the Minister had no knowledge of the actions – I am not saying here that the Minister did not have any knowledge of what took place in Linden – this does not abrogate or negate his responsibility.
The Minister is ultimately responsible for all actions, because even without knowledge of an infraction by subordinates the Minister approved the hiring and continued employment of those civil servants.
If indeed misdeeds have found to have occurred in that Ministry, as I said before, I would call on the Minister to resign. It is also possible for Ministers, when they fail to carry out their responsibility, to face criminal charges for malfeasance under their watch. The principle is considered essential as a guarantee that an elected official is answerable for every single decision within his/her portfolio. This should motivate all Ministers of the Government to closely scrutinise the activities within their departments or Ministries.
The APNU wishes to put the PPP on notice that A Partnership for National Unity will not stand idly by and allow these excesses to continue without proper redress. I wish therefore on behalf of A Partnership for National Unity to support the Motion to condemn the killing of the three persons and the injuries to the several others by the Guyana Police Force in Linden on Wednesday July 18th 2012 and extend sincerest condolences to the families of the deceased and sympathy to the injured persons, as well as to sense and express no confidence in the Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon. Clement Rohee, over the inability to discharge his responsibility for public security and call for the immediate revocation of his appointment as a Minister of the Government and for his dismissal from office. Thank you.
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