Walter Rodney Inquiry – concerns raised by GHRA and PNC

Rodney Commission is “worst form of electioneering,” can whip up racial tension- GHRA

Thursday, 06 March 2014 13:52

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) on Thursday dissociated itself from the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) , saying it was possibly designed to whip up East Indian bitterness against the Peoples National Congress (PNC) and appeared to be the “worst form” of electioneering by the incumbent administration.

That rights organisation took issue with one of the Terms of Reference that requires the three-member commission to investigate the extent to which the many quasi-political military organizations existing in Guyana at the time of Rodney’s death, were tasked with surveillance against the ‘political opposition’, rather than against his Working Peoples Alliance (WPA)

“In this respect, the clause provides an opportunity for inserting the ruling PPP into events in which it was marginal at the time and for generating a stream of horror stories from that era into the work of the Commission, with rich potential for stirring up Indo-Guyanese resentment against the PNC.

Coming at a time of much speculation over general and regional elections, the proposed COI could be read as the worst form of electioneering,” the GHRA said in a statement. The PNC-Reform and its wider coalition A Partnership of National Unity (APNU) draws the bulk of its political support from among Afro-Guyanese while East Indians largely support the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC).

The GHRA cautioned that the COI could revive rather than heal ethnic division in Guyana, something that would amount to a travesty of travesty of Dr. Rodney’s major contribution to Guyana.

Flaying government for failing to consult the WPA on the “opportunistic” Terms of Reference as that “robs the initiative of any credibility,” the GHRA deemed the rational for the COI as a puzzling since its Terms of Reference suggests that it will be a criminal investigation but at the same time rules out criminal charges for anyone found guilty as h or she would be granted an absolute pardon.

The GHRA instead said a more appropriate priority would be an impartial investigation into the numerous extra-judicial killings of young men during the mid-2000s in circumstances which suggested involvement of the State.

Ethnic division in Guyana, the association argued, has not healed sufficiently to make way for a COI. “Reluctantly, the GHRA feels compelled to conclude that the proposed initiative has more to do with prolonging the ethnic dimension of Guyanese politics, than laying to rest controversy over who was responsible for Walter Rodney’s death.”

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in 1995 had found that there was sufficient evidence for such an enquiry but former Guyana Defence Force Sergeant, Gregory Smith alias Cyril Johnson would have been key in such a probe.

France declined to extradite Johnson from French Guiana because Guyana still has the death penalty on its law books and the government could not have given any assurance that it would not have been enforced if he was found guilty. Smith years later died in French Guiana from colon cancer.

 PNCR iffy about participating in Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry

  • Thursday, 06 March 2014 12:36

President Donald Ramotar and commissioners, Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam (left), Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham and Queen’s Counsel, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown

The Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) is uncertain whether any of its senior members would be testifying in the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry because of concerns that one of the commissioners is a government lawyer.

Chairman of the PNCR, Basil Williams said his party’s executive would shortly meet to make a decision. “We would therefore make that assessment as to whether it is necessary for us to participate in such an inquiry which seems to be loaded in the first instance,” he told a news conference.

The Working Peoples Alliance (WPA), which is part of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), also plans to write President Donald Ramotar to express similar concerns about the appointment of Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel, Seenauth Jairam on the three-member panel of commissioners.

Concerns centre around the fact that Seeram was on a government battery of lawyers to persuade the High Court that the opposition could not cut the National Budget.

“There would be a likelihood of basis… We are not questioning the competence but certainly a man who has been involved in partisan politics against the opposition in Guyana ought not to be sitting to determine what was the involvement of the main political opposition party during that period,” said Williams.

Asked whether the PNCR was using Jairam’s appointment as an excuse for refusing to participate in the probe, Williams said “We wouldn’t want any excuse but the way the government has abducted this whole process and the nature of the Terms of Reference it seems to us from the outset that they are desiring a certain outcome.”

The PNCR Chairman also expressed concerns about the terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry. Specifically, he referred to one that tasks the commissioners to examine the actions and activities of the state security agencies such as the Guyana Police Force, Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Peoples Militia to determine whether those who were in command and superintended them were ordered to engage in surveillance activities between January 1, 1079 and December 31, 1980.

“This is nothing else but a witch hunt…It appears that the enquiry is targeting the period when the PNC was in government,” added Williams.

The WPA and PNCR have also expressed concerns that the political opposition has been left out in establishing the Presidential Commission of Inquiry although the National Assembly had several years ago unanimously agreed that such a probe should be held.

Rodney was killed on June 13, 1980 while sitting in his car on John Street outside the Georgetown Prison. His brother and other WPA activists at the time had accused former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) electronics expert Sergeant Gregory Smith of giving Rodney a walkie-talkie to test against the metal fence of the jail. Rodney did not know that a bomb had been planted in the communications device.

The WPA and Rodney had been leading a civil rebellion against the PNC dictatorship of late Forbes Burnham.

Williams said the Commission’s Terms of Reference did not include the possibility that Rodney might have been responsible for his own death.

Asked whether the PNCR has anything to hide given its relationship with the security forces at that time, Williams declined to speak for that period and he also questioned whether now elderly persons would accurately recall what had happened then. “You are talking about recollecting….how accurate would be there recollections of events that occurred thirty years ago,” he said.

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