GHRA says no to Walter Rodney inquiry

-questioning purpose and process

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) yesterday wrote the Administrator of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the death of Dr Walter Rodney stating its unwillingness to associate itself with the work of the Commission as it was not convinced about the purpose or the process of the COI.

The GHRA issued a press release detailing the reasons for this decision. It said that in response to the invitation to contribute to the CoI, after studying the terms of reference, the GHRA is of the view that the proposed CoI has greater potential for reviving rather than healing ethnic division in Guyana. It stated that should this indeed be the outcome, it would be a travesty of Dr Rodney’s major contribution to Guyana.

It noted that the failure to consult the Working Peoples’ Alliance, Dr Rodney’s party, on what may be perceived as opportunistic terms of reference for the inquiry, robs the initiative of credibility.

According to the GHRA, numerous calls have been made over the past three decades for an inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Dr Walter Rodney. The closest this long-demanded Commission came to realization occurred in 1995 when the PPP government invited a team appointed by the International Commission of Jurists to assess the evidence available for holding such an enquiry.

Walter Rodney
Walter Rodney

However, the idea of the Commission foundered on the inability to go forward with extradition proceedings of the main suspect Gregory Smith (now deceased) from Cayenne, because Guyana could not meet the assurance required by France, that the death penalty would not be invoked against him.

It said that further efforts to mount an inquiry generated much acrimony and were resisted by the government, the most persistent being in 2008 following a much-publicized picket of the Government by Dr Rodney’s son Shaka Rodney. This effort failed due to an unprecedented parliamentary manoeuvre in which the PPP abstained from voting on its own motion to mount an inquiry.

The GHRA said that the rationale for the proposed Commission was puzzling, noting that while its terms of reference (ToR) numbers (i) to (iii) suggested it was a criminal investigation, the last paragraph specifically ruled out any criminal charges resulting from it. It said that the ToR stated that all persons who may be found guilty of any kind of act related to Dr Rodney’s death were to be granted ‘an absolute pardon.’

It suggested that the alternative rationale was that the COI was intended to strengthen a process of ethnic healing between the major races in Guyana. However, this possibility was ruled out by number (iv) of the ToR which was provocative.

“That clause requires the COI 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 the 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.

“Apart from the timing in relation to the larger Guyanese political context, the general history of peace and reconciliation initiatives has demonstrated that they are really only effective after the particular conflict they are addressing has been brought to some form of resolution (for example, Bosnia, South Africa, Argentina after the colonels etc). In the Guyana context, it would be premature to suggest that ethnic reconciliation has been sufficiently established as to justify the COI in these terms.

“Moreover, at the present time, 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.

“The reluctance of the GHRA to involve itself in the current enquiry comes against a background of the Association having worked assiduously in previous decades to have an Inquiry come into being.

“Dr Rodney’s unique contribution to Guyana was the momentum he generated across the society to challenge the ethnic nature of Guyanese politics. The perpetrators of his death correctly calculated that it would ensure the survival and continuance of a system sustained by ethnic insecurity.

“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 statement from the Executive Committee of the GHRA said.

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