Deaths in Linden1991 25 Jul, 2012
Mrs. Hughes: It is with deep sadness that I rise to express my horror at the murder of three protesters in Linden on Wednesday, July 18th and to once again express to the people of Linden, on behalf of the AFC and all rational thinking Guyanese, our deepest sympathies.
I raise also to endorse the motion and to say that this National Assembly must express its concern in the continuance in the position of the current Minister of Home Affairs. It is clear that he is unable to discharge his responsibility for public security and we request of the President, himself, his immediate dismissal. Or, of course, if Minister Rohee’s conscience, honesty and integrity should prevail, that he would do the honourable and gentlemanly thing and offer his resignation.
I am disturbed, as often happens in Guyana, that we, as a nation, get caught up with unacceptable explanations to justify the continued police violence perpetuated against the citizens of this country and the inability of those in positions of authority to act responsibly and fairly in times of grave injustice. These senseless killings have placed a further strain on Guyana that is no less severe than the strain that was placed by the occurrence of the killings at Lusignan, in Bartica, at Lindo Creek, the killing of Yohance Douglas and the torture of a young man in a police station. All of these actions are totally unacceptable in any type of democracy.
The issue today is not over proposed increases in electricity rates and its imposition on the people of Linden, but the right of all persons, of all races, all ages, all political persuasions and all religious affiliations to protest anywhere. What makes this incident more contemptuous is that, firstly, it violates internationally recognised human rights as provided under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which article 3 states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” and article 20 (1) states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
Secondly, it violates our own Constitution which guarantees us, as citizens, protection of these rights.
I want to look a bit further afield. Occupy Wall Street, an ongoing protest, began in the United States of America on 17th of September, 2011, with hundreds protesting daily. Two hundred were arrested but none were shot at point blank range, some in the back.
In 2011, thousands stood in Tahrir Square, in Egypt, protesting the Mubarak’s administration. Later Mubarak was charged with the deaths of some protesters and sentenced to life imprisonment for complicity in those deaths. The Interior Minister also received a life sentence. Subsequently, the military junta took over and during ongoing protests in Tahrir Square twenty-four protesters were killed. This triggered the resignation of the entire Cabinet.
Recent protests in Spain and in England, where the Brits, in fact, looted stores and burnt buildings saw the British Metropolitan police doing all that they could to make sure they maintained law and order, but they did not shoot or kill anyone.
This week, once again, Guyana has found itself in the throes of mourning, mourning not only the lost lives but the death of justice and liberty.
On 22nd August, 1968 Guyana signed on to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This places specific responsibilities and obligations on the Government of Guyana, whichever Government is in place. Guyana ratified its position in 1977 on 15th February. Article 6 (1) of that statute 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”.
The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, as adopted by the United Nations, was clearly violated on the evening of 18th July, 2012. Whereas article 3 of the “Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials” provides that law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. Mr. Speaker and Members of this honourable House, I want to emphasise the words “…only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”There is nothing in the events of the evening of 18th July that indicate, even in the slightest degree, that the use of deadly force was warranted.
I want to quote article 13 in the same document, under the heading, “Policing Unlawful Assemblies”, and there again, the United Nations states:
“In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent where necessary.”
The Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Italy, in its resolution 14 states inter alia that the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials should commensurate with due respect for human rights.
Mr. Speaker, let me again refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 3:
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
That is again, reiterating article 20 (1).
What the victims of 18th July were doing was exercising their human right and for that they were murdered. An autopsy shows that each of them was shot through the heart, two from the front and one from the back.
Going back to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement Officials, I quote:
“Governments and law enforcement agencies shall adopt and implement rules and regulations on the use of force and firearms against persons by law enforcement officials. In developing such rules and regulations, Governments and law enforcement agencies shall keep the ethical issues associated with the use of force and firearms constantly under review.”
It is clear. It is the responsibility, not only a responsibility, but an obligation of the Government to ensure that rules and regulations are developed, implemented and adhered to, in the use of force.
In the general provisions it is stated:
“Governments and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of means as broad as possible and equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition that would allow for a differentiated use of force and firearms. These should include the development of non-lethal incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations, with a view to increasingly restraining the application of means capable of causing death or injury to persons. For the same purpose, it should also be possible for law enforcement officials to be equipped with self-defensive equipment such as shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof means of transportation, in order to decrease the need to use weapons of any kind.”
Millions of tax dollars have been spent purchasing and equipping law enforcement officers with exactly such equipment, but those were not used. The water cannon was not even sent to Linden. The officers were not in full protective gear. Why were millions spent to equip the police to deal with such eventualities?
The same document states:
“Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non- violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective…”
There is no evidence that other means were used or tried before live fire was unleashed on the poor citizens of Linden. If we do not put a stop to this now, I am afraid this will become the new modus operandi for the Guyana Police Force.
The Basic Principles on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement Officials also states that when lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall minimise damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life. Mr. Speaker, shots fire through the heart is clearly not intended to minimise injury. Shots to the heart are intended to do only one thing – that is to kill and kill instantly.
Law enforcement officers have the responsibility to ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment. There are eyewitness accounts of a person taking off a white shirt – in this case a male nurse - and waving it as a surrender flag, but the police just kept shooting. A medical practitioner approached the police requesting assistance for the injured and he was met with vile language and an absolute refusal from the police. I have got that report firsthand.
The Basic Principles on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement Officials states that Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under the law. We, in the AFC, demand that the officers be charged with murder. No less will suffice.
Let me remind this honourable House and my colleagues in Government that exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic international principles. The Government must do what is right, not only to satisfy the families of those who were murdered, but in the eyes of all the citizens of this country, in fact in the eyes of all the citizens of the world, this Government must do what is right.
It is abhorrent that after forty-six years of independence Guyana would find itself in a position where the rights of its citizens to protest against injustice and oppression could result in citizens being gunned down by law enforcement agencies.
In 1924 when the urban black dock workers were on strike, East Indian workers marched from Plantation Ruimveldt to Georgetown in support of the striking British Guiana Labour Union dock workers, led by Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow. On their way to Georgetown the Colonial British Guiana Police Force opened fire at Ruimveldt Police Station killing thirteen and wounding twenty-four. In June, 1948, East Indian sugar workers at Enmore were protesting for better pay along with working and living conditions when five were shot and killed. In July 2012, members of the Linden community came out to protest for jobs and better economic conditions and they were shot and killed. It is not about race. It is about the system.
In 1924 and 1948 the police was the preferred instrument of the ruling class and they were used as the instruments of oppression. In 1966, we changed the colour of the oppressor and the police force, but the system remained the same. Today, the police force continues to support the ruling class under the same structure. In fact, if we read the biography of Dr. Cheddi Jagan, “it is not an issue of race,” he said, but again of the system. It is ironic that, as tragic as it is, it is Dr. Jagan’s own working class party, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), that now champions the cause of the oppressor.
What we saw unfolded in Linden on July 18th was being reminiscent of a dark past, also signals a dismal future. As recent as the immediate post-2011 elections, we witnessed the police using uncalled for violence against a group of protesters at the Square of the Revolution. Many were shot with rubber bullets, and I think there are a few who are Members of this House. Some of those protesters were shot in the back even as they had calmly attempted to remove themselves from the area. There was no condemnation from the Government; there was not a proper investigation; that act of oppression was excused away by those in authority, as many of our recent acts have been. A few short months after, we saw live rounds replacing rubber pellets. As a people we now need to ask ourselves: How far will we allow this degeneration into oppression to go? If we stand by and say nothing on the aggression of our brothers and sisters at Linden we can be assured that one day our turn will come.
Now to the issue of ministerial accountability and responsibility: No matter how exhaustive the constitutional and international provisions in a democracy are that democracy will suffer when there is not an understanding by its political actors that there is something called unwritten conventions, which bolster and buttress such written provisions, and which ought to be adhered to so as to create confidence in the system. Political actors who master only the art of democratic centralism, party paramountcy and executive commandism will never know anything about the convention of ministerial responsibility nor regretfully will they ever care to know. From all appearances, it was either that or absolute ignorance of this convention, or an unabashed arrogance towards it, which may have been the reason why the Hon. Minister, in question today, would mistakenly feel that he is not responsible simply because he was not there.
The convention of individual ministerial responsibility fixes blame on a Minister for all failure of policy and administration whether the Minister himself is at fault or not, or if the failure resulted from departmental maladministration. In other words, a Minister must take the praise for the successes of his department and also the blame for its failures. It is this responsible ministerial Government that we must strive to perfect and come close to. Now when the blame is grave enough, being directed as a result of an error or misjudgment or wanton unlawful conduct on the part of the Minister, such an errant Minister must be fired or tender his resignation, otherwise, the entire system becomes compromised and undermined and a dangerous precedent is set.
I want to refer, at this time, to one of the definitions on the individual responsibility of Ministers and it is documented in Constitutional and Administrative Law by David Pollard and the quote comes from Professor Munroe, page 117, “The Individual Responsibilities of Ministers.”
“The individual responsibility of Ministers illustrates further Professor Munroe’s continuum theory. Ministers are individually accountable for their own private conduct, the general running of their departments and acts done or omitted to be done by the civil servants responsibility in the first two cases is clearer in the first than in others. A Minister involved in sexual or financial scandals, particularly those having implications for national security, may have to resign because his activities will so attract the attention of the press that he will no longer be able to carry out his departmental duties.”
And here we are reminded in Britain, in 1963, of the John Profumo affair.
The concept of ministerial responsibility has been followed daily in several parts of the world, but let me bring it a bit closer to home, and let us look at the Caribbean.
In St. Lucia, Richards Fredericks, Minister of Housing resigned because his personal and diplomatic visa was revoked. Even though he said it was not necessary for his job, that happened one month before the St. Lucia’s general elections and was deemed unacceptable by himself and the people of St. Lucia.
In Jamaica, James Robertson, Minister of Energy and Mining for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) resigned immediately when the news became public that his diplomatic visa was revoked by the United States of America. This can be compared to a former Police Commissioner in, you know where, whose visa was revoked in 2006 when he was appointed Commissioner of Police.
In Trinidad, Mary King, Minister of Planning, resigned because she failed to declare that she had an interest in a family company which received a contract from the Ministry she was responsible for.
And, across the political spectrum, in Jamaica, on the People’s National Party (PNP) side, Colin Campbell, Minister of Information and also the PNP General Secretary resigned from both his position of Cabinet and party position over the question of campaign donations. Once again, on the PNP side, Carl Blight, the Minister of Housing resigned over corruption in awarding contracts. On the JLP side, Coren Spencer, the Minister of Energy did not only resign but was taken to court over the Cuban light bulb scandal. Mike Henry, Transport and Works Minister resigned because of allegations of lack of transparency in the Jamaica Development Infrastructural Programme which was related to road contracts. And finally, as we know, former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, resigned over the Dudus affair.
So, Mr. Speaker, I call on the Minister of Home Affairs to stand as an honourable man, to do the right thing. By his own admission on National Communications Network (NCN), he has stated in an interview, that the use of bullets was discussed before and he did not sanction their use. If, in fact, those words of his are true, then it is only the honourable thing that he can do. It is clear that he is unable to manage the police force and, further, that they have no respect for him, his orders or his instructions. This is totally unacceptable when the initial report from the independent pathologist states that all of the men were shot straight through the heart by bronze capped rounds and not by rubber pellets, two from the front and one from the back. This does not happen when one intends for people to be injured. This happens when one intends to kill.
As the people of Linden have stated, many times recently, Rohee must go.
Hon. Members (Opposition): Murder. It is cold blooded murder.
Mr. Speaker: Okay Members. Mrs. Hughes, are you completed?
Mrs. Hughes: Yes.
Mr. Speaker: I see. Thank you.
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