Justice for Walter Rodney group petitions gov’t for extension of inquiry

Mere days before a final report is to be handed over, a petition for the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to sit for two more weeks so as to complete its work was on Thursday handed over to government.

A statement from the Justice for Walter Rodney Campaign said that the document with over 1,000 signatures was presented to Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman and comes on the heels of similar action at Guyana’s Washington DC embassy and its Jamaica High Commission.

The statement explained that the handing over to Trotman was done by rights activist Karen de Souza on behalf of the Campaign, which is spearheaded by Guyanese in London.

Stabroek News made several attempts to contact Trotman for a reaction but was unsuccessful.

According to the Campaign statement, the petitioners are asking that President David Granger allow the CoI the two more weeks it requested to properly complete its work. “The Administration is refusing a mere two weeks, after 34 years of evasion by successive governments,” the statement added.

Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman receiving the petition from rights activist Karen de Souza on behalf of the Justice for Walter Rodney Campaign. (Justice for Walter Rodney Campaign photo)
Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman receiving the petition from rights activist Karen de Souza on behalf of the Justice for Walter Rodney Campaign. (Justice for Walter Rodney Campaign photo)

Granger, in May, had signalled his intention to bring the CoI to an end. His reasoning is that it had failed to yield any valuable evidence and led to a lot of time and money being wasted.

The final hearing was held on July 28th and the three-man commission was given until November 30th to submit the report, findings and recommendations.

The CoI began in April, 2014 and continued early this year. According to the Terms of Reference, the commissioners were to examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of and subsequent to the death of Rodney in order to determine as far as possible who or what was responsible for the explosion resulting in his death.

The commissioners were also to enquire into the cause of the explosion in which Rodney died, including whether it was an act of terrorism and if so who were the perpetrators.

The then PNC government had been accused of engineering Rodney’s assassination on June 13, 1980.

According to the Campaign, the assassination of Rodney remains Guyana’s most traumatising political murder. It said that a proper investigation was at various times avoided and frustrated by the PNC under the leadership of the late Forbes Burnham and then by the PPP/C under four presidents, including Bharrat Jagdeo, who was president for 12 years.

“The refusal by the Granger-led coalition government to allow the commission to complete its work now threatens to undo more than one year’s work and to deny Guyanese the opportunity to finally establish the truth of the death of one of Guyana’s great sons,” it said, before criticising the present coalition government for attempting to “undermine and discredit” the CoI within days of entering office and without proposing a better alternative.

According to the statement, Rodney’s renowned legacy in Guyana endured sufficiently to curb racial voting for the first time in Guyana’s 50-year post-colonial history, thus enabling Granger’s win.

It said Rodney’s political teachings had exposed the exploitative nature of Guyana’s historic ethnic Indian/African conflicts, which stymied its post-colonial development. But Rodney was seen as a direct threat to Forbes Burnham’s power and the politics of party paramountcy.

According to the statement, a new dispensation for the CoI could resolve previous abuses which were not of the commission’s making. “However new ministers, Attorney General Basil Williams—who represented the PNC at the WRCOI—and… Trotman simply asserted that the two-week extension was disallowed to save taxpayers’ money and, more ominously, further embarrassment,” it lamented.

It added that as Novem-ber 30th approaches, the government is being urged to announce a reversal of its short-sighted decision that has brought a premature end to the CoI. “This plea is in keeping with what has been called for by all three commissioners, the lawyers representing Rodney’s party, the much depleted Working People’s Alliance- now part of APNU, Rodney’s brother Donald, in whose car the fatal bomb was detonated, and the rest of Rodney’s family. Guyana needs and deserves a proper inquiry in which all key witnesses give evidence under oath. Only then can our country begin the journey of healing and reconciliation,” it added.

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