The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) yesterday condemned the police force over the shooting of protesters in the city with rubber bullets.
In a press statement, the GHRA said conflicting versions exist as to whether permission for the march had been granted but added that regardless of the legality, the march was peaceful and it could have been contained by lesser use of force. “There is no evidence or allegation that the Tactical Service was attacked by the marchers and its deployment in these instances must be condemned,” the GHRA said.
Police, who said no permission was granted for the march, said that they ordered the protestors to disperse and after their instruction was not heeded they fired rubber bullets at them. The protest was organized by supporters of opposition coalition APNU to press the demands for a verification of the Statements of Poll from the November 28 elections.
According to the GHRA, the evidence to date has been one of great restraint exercised by opposition forces in the face of serious provocation “induced by a lack of fairness in the elections campaign; the loss of credibility by the Guyana Elections Commission due to the delays in the counting of votes; and the disinterested behaviour of the elections authorities towards legitimate complaints over these matters.”
The GHRA said that the intolerance for protest “which culminated in this morning’s events is an extension of the fixation on peace rather than fairness which characterized elections related activities.” The GHRA said this attitude evolved into undisguised impatience with all protest action which might interfere with business, regardless of validity. “This posture, notably encouraged by the leadership of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), risks culminating in criminalizing all public protest,” it warned.
The body said that without minimizing the importance of policing, it is equally important that the authorities recognize they do not have unfettered discretion over granting such permission. “The crux of the issue is that the right to peaceful demonstration and assembly can only be curtailed when there is a clear threat to public order or the rights and freedoms of others,” the GHRA said.
GTUC, meanwhile, called December 6, 2011 “another dark day” in Guyana’s history and said injustice anywhere poses a threat to peace and unity everywhere and that the police’s shooting of persons engaged in peaceful social action “is not where the people of this country desire to go or should be going.” The release said that this action is reminiscent of the May 1999 shooting of unarmed striking public servants in front of the John Fernandes wharf.
“There is an inhumane, naked intolerance for dissent and the rights of citizens of this country. Guyana is not moving forward but sits in the abyss of socio-economic and political decay caused by human greed, repressive management and an outdated political system unsuited to our need for peaceful co-existence and development,” the GTUC said in a release.
The release noted that this nation desires stability which can only be achieved through political justice since politics is about people, their well-being, and their development.
“The fact that the unattended grievances which gave cause for another street protest today, and of which the State police have resorted to violence on a non-violent group is a grave act of injustice, under a Commander-in-Chief, who days ago promised this nation to do business differently from his predecessor.
The bloody era of intolerance has not come to an end. The bloodied bodies and injuries of those who were the recipient of State police barbarity is the responsibility of Donald Ramotar and the blood of these people will forever stain his record and his hands, as presently responsibility is his to give leadership towards the establishment of society where the rights of all citizens are respected,” the release said.
The GTUC said that whether or not the marchers were guilty of a crime, “it is the court that determines guilt and penalty, not the police who sought to do so by shooting citizens.”
“GTUC calls on Mr. Donald Ramotar to demonstrate, if he is not party to this recent state police violence under his watch, to denounce the barbarity of those under his command; commission an enquiry into the events of this day that resulted in violence against peaceful protestors; and partner with civil society, political groups and voices of reason to address the grievances being adumbrated by the aggrieved, for justice when served will precede peace and stability that this nation needs,” the GTUC said.