Home Letters GHRA has changed since the time of its founding
The GHRA of today is far removed from the organisation that was formed in 1979. This point was clearly made by General Secretary of the PPP, Bharrat Jagdeo at the Cheddi Jagan memorial event at Babu Jaan on Sunday. While no one doubts that GHRA played an important role in exposing the sustained attacks on human rights in Guyana under Burnham and the PNC, it must be noted that the organisation has changed beyond recognition since those days of endemic State repression.
It is especially important to note that the old GHRA was not a one-man show at that time. The organisation was active and impactful because many distinguished Guyanese leaders were active in the organisation. Among them were Ashton Chase, Gordon Todd, N.K. Gopaul, Fr Malcom Rodrigues, Maulvi Azeez, and others. These stalwarts represented a cross section of Guyanese society known for militancy against the authoritarian PNC. All of them were dedicated to free and fair elections, a matter of national survival, given that by 1979 the PNC had mastered electoral banditry.
The strength of the old GHRA was not on account of one man. If fact, when GHRA was formed, Chase, Todd, Gopaul, Maulvi Azeez and Malcom Rodrigues had already established a track record of fighting the dictatorship. Ashton Chase, of course, was a founding member of the Political Affairs Committee and the PPP, and had by 1979 earned the reputation as a brilliant and steadfast champion of the labour movement. He was Minister of Labour in Cheddi Jagan’s first Government in 1953. Gordon Todd was the leader of the powerful Clerical and Commercial Workers Union, with strong groundings in the urban areas. For Chamanlall Naipaul, Gordon Todd “was one of those principled, fearless, unflinching and uncompromising advocates and leaders in the struggle of the working class, and indeed a true patriot and son of the soil” (Guyana Chronicle, 1/5/2007).
N.K. Gopaul, a courageous and battle-tested anti-dictatorship fighter, was General Secretary (and later President) of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NACCIE). GHRA also benefitted from the presence and leadership of Jesuit priest Fr Malcom Rodrigues, who was also Head of the Physics Department at UG, and later Vice Chancellor at the same institution. And, among many others who shored-up GHRA, there was the reputable architect, Albert Rodrigues, and the Muslim leader Maulvi Azeez, from West Coast Demerara.
During the heydays of the anti-dictatorship struggles against the PNC, therefore, the GHRA had multiple people who had long track records in human rights, and deep connections to the society. They were also active players rather than mere names on a piece of paper (or website). They pulled no punches, but instead took the fight against the extant machinery of repression.
That is a far cry from what exists as the GHRA today. The organisation now has been reduced to a single voice, something that should never happen in an organisation that is intended to protect human rights. The current GHRA has become too politicised, and there is widespread belief that it is biased towards, and a cover for, a small clique of Georgetown elites, along with some overseas academics who have only peripheral connections to Guyana.
The GHRA is so dysfunctional because of one-manism that issues of human rights can be bent, ignored, or simply dismissed. This is precisely what happened when Mr McCormack ignored Tacuma Ogunseye’s race-based call for violent subversion of the Government. May I remind readers that the WPA leader called for turning guns on people. His fanatical call was reinforced by Associate Professor David Hinds of Arizona State University who called for 750,000 Ogunseyes.
To the best of my knowledge, Mike McCormack is yet to condemn the WPA’s call to racial violence. I previously called on Mike to do the right thing. So far, nothing.
Dr Randolph Persaud