Minister Juan A Edghill expressed opinions that undermine building a better Guyana in a Hard Talk radio interview aired on March 1, 2015. I wish to state at the outset that Minister Edghill is entitled to his own political sentiments but any attempts to sow discord should be categorically rejected. As the former Chair of the Ethnic Relations Commission his public statements should be elevated above the high-octane political rhetoric that tends towards divisiveness and exclusion. At the same time, as a public official Minister Edghill has a responsibility to uphold the constitutional mandate of the ERC and ensure the Racial Hostility Act is not breached.
Soon after the Lusignan killings in 2008, I had several opportunities to meet, to commiserate and support the recovery of the eight surviving families and their children through to 2009. During this period, I facilitated visits of nationals and internationals who wanted to support the recovery of the survivors. From 2010 to 2013, I visited occasionally to see how they were rebuilding their lives. Generally, the visits took on various forms; sometimes it would be an all survivors group meeting, a partial survivors group meeting depending on who were available or one-on-one meetings with each family, including the children. Often the survivors would volunteer to tell their stories; their account of the fatal night, show the bullet holes on the walls of their homes, they showed wounds on their bodies. The last time I visited, much to my chagrin one survivor said “I still gat de bloody mattress de children dead pon.” In these countless stories over time ‘the hurling of racial slurs’ was never recounted.
From the survivor’s accounts, they never saw the perpetrators, they heard banging on doors, they heard footsteps, they heard gunfire, they heard a vehicle or two leaving the street and then they came out from hiding when they thought it was safe. At least one survivor saw shiny boots from his position under a bed; another determined that the weapons were high powered due to the accuracy of shooting into a dark house.
When asked about the court case that eventually collapsed the survivors said, “Some men were charged and we does get late notice to attend Court, sometimes is same day they come fuh carry we to Court.” When asked who rendered assistance to surviving families, they reported tangible support from an ‘unknown man’ from a named political party who helped families with funeral expenses, the Kaieteur News fund, an NGO and two international development partners. Clearly, the response to the Lusignan killings was underwhelming.
In any case, if one were to accept the veracity of Minister Edghill’s statement that he obtained this information in his position as Chair of the ERC, what is the social impact of stating reported accounts as fact that “attackers hurled racial slurs during the massacre” at Lusignan? Even if this reported account is accurate, is it appropriate to use as public information in defence of a previous insensitive statement? What is the value of telling the surviving community, “It was an act of hate, it was an act of race hate and we must not forget that” at a commemorative event seven years later? These comments could easily be seen as a “wilful attempt to excite hostility or ill-will against a section of the public” in stark contravention of the Racial Hostility Act, Article 2.
Firstly, it is unclear how Minister Edghill determined the motivation of the perpetrators when the state and experts have not been able to clearly establish such facts from the scant information provided by the survivors and the Lusignan community. Secondly, it is extremely surprising to hear a public official who held such a high constitutional office as Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission descend to discourse that bolsters ethnopolitical tensions rather than heals the Lusignan community and our nation. The comments referenced in this letter make zero contribution to building a better Guyana.
The survivors of this horrendous crime deserve more respect and tangible national support to overcome the trauma they experienced. It is abhorrent that their pain is being used for political mileage. Moreover the people of Guyana deserve public officials who are committed to promoting peace, justice and harmony.
Partners for Peace and