The media recently reported that the Guyana Defence Force has launched an internal investigation into the “initiation beating of a number of new officers of the Force who were recently commissioned. The initiation usually forms part of the ‘welcome into the Force’, but this year, senior officers expressed concerns that those involved in the incident went too far. A number of the new officers had to be taken to the hospital to seek medical attention for various injuries, while a young doctor, who is a reserve officer, was likely to have undergone surgery due to injuries he sustained during training.
In response to this issue, Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan stated that if the allegations turned out to be true, they must be condemned.
Firstly, if this kind of physical abuse, which is what it is, has been part of initiation then how come the Minister is not aware of it? Secondly, if the allegations are true, is the Minister saying that condemnation would be a sufficient response? Physical abuse as part of any army training is a ‘tradition’ of the past. Army regulations should be urgently updated to make it clear that any physical abuse of recruits or other army personnel is unacceptable and perpetrators would be penalised. In fact, in the US Army, trainers have to seek the permission of recruits to even touch them. I know because I undertook that training.
Also, it is well known that globally, the army has the highest rates of suicide in any nation, and that army personnel often suffer a range of mental health issues resulting in many veterans never recovering and some often ending up on the streets. Thus, this kind of physical abuse and the resultant trauma at the very beginning of their career can catalyse mental health issues ever earlier than usual.
Incidentally, some years ago, the GDF had reached out to The Caribbean Voice (TCV) to help address suicide, but for whatever reason, subsequent follow-ups to formalise plans were met with silence from army personnel who had contacted us. We sincerely hope that if such help was not sought elsewhere then it should be given urgent priority and that overall mental health should be part of the regular annual checkup of all army personnel.
On a final note, military and paramilitary entities globally have erected a ‘‘wall of silence” to prevent their transgressions from being known by the public. It is not inconceivable that the same situation exists in Guyana and whistleblowers know that they are putting their lives at risk. Thus, any internal investigation will always be suspect and viewed with scepticism by the public. The Public Security Minister should, therefore, get the Government to set up independent investigation committees to handle issues like this as this would ensure that trust in the army (and Police with respect to other situations such as the ongoing revelations in Berbice and the claims of Police complicity in investigating sexual abuse) would not be eroded as well as to be able to weed out unsavoury practices and personnel.
The Caribbean Voice