An editorial published on Sunday, October 21st, 2007, in The Guyana Chronicle – a state controlled newspaper, is a fitting example of lack of journalistic integrity and the problem inherent in state controlled media, especially in countries which experience regular human rights violations.
Guyana has a long history of human rights abuses and state sanctioned murders so antennas must be raised when the state owned press endeavours to launch what appears to be a very personal attack against the head of the Guyana Human Rights Association, a domestic human rights organisations. What is very transparent from the editorial is an apparent willful misstatement of the nature and role of human rights organisations.
Any first year university student should be able to point out that a human rights organisation’s, such as the Guyana Human Rights Association, primary responsibility is to protect individuals from excesses by the state and its organs. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires that even the most vile and dangerous criminals be entitled to certain basic protections especially before they are properly convicted in a court of law. The writer of the editorial seems to conveniently ignore this very basic tenet of universal human rights protection by suggesting that the Guyana Human Rights Association should be expressing sympathy for the victims of criminal conduct instead of speaking out against human rights violations. While, indeed, such victims should be accorded sympathy and even compensation, it is not the usual mandate of a human rights association to exercise these functions.
Moreover, without providing any evidence of misappropriation of funds, the writer seeks to impugn the reputation of the president of the Guyana Human Rights Association by suggesting that an audit of the Association should be done. Those of us who have worked closely with human rights organizations know that these non-governmental organizations usually exist on meagre budgets. They are hardly good targets for misappropriation of funds.
If the state controlled media in Guyana has valid concerns in regards to political bias by the Guyana Human Rights Association then it is certainly entitled to make those concerns public by citing examples and providing the necessary evidence to support its allegations. The editorial clearly departed from this responsible approach.
As their primary function is to speak out on excesses of the state or organs of the state, human rights organizations are natural targets for governments, especially in countries with undemocratic traditions. It is imperative that such states be reminded of their domestic and international obligations when they transgress them. Indeed, it is especially important that this be done internationally as doing so domestically could often be an invitation to further abuses by the state.