The decision by President Dr Irfaan Ali to seek assistance from the British Government and Regional Security System support of the Guyana Police Force’s investigative capacity is a welcome move.
What started out as a protest for justice for teen cousins: 16-year-old Isaiah Henry and 19-year-old Joel Henry, who were brutally murdered by barbaric criminals, quickly descended in a full-blown criminal enterprise. How does robbing, beating, extorting and destroying people’s property constitute, by any stretch of the imagination, justice for these boys?
It is no secret that the entire unfortunate episode along the West Coast of Berbice started after very irresponsible words were uttered by two Opposition politicians to residents of Number 3 Village following the boys’ deaths.
It is obvious that the cruel manner in which the boys were murdered would have sparked widespread public outrage, and both these politicians used that as an opportune moment to gain political mileage, causing Guyana to plunge into its worst racial unrest in years.
One is on record as saying, without evidence, “Too many Black youths are vanishing in the same way that cousins Isaiah and Joel Henry were killed and mutilated.” The other irresponsibly told the grieving community, “If the Government cannot protect us, then we must protect ourselves.”
Since inciting the violence along the West Coast of Berbice, Guyanese have yet to hear one word of condemnation from these very two politicians. Their surrogates are using social media to spew the same sentiments that have caused the already enflamed situation to worsen.
It was United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres who, while speaking on the issue of discrimination and hate speech, said that social media and other forms of communication are being exploited as platforms for bigotry. Public discourse is being weaponised for political gain with incendiary rhetoric that stigmatises and dehumanises.
Hate speech, Guterres said, is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace. To quote the SG: “As a matter of principle, the United Nations must confront hate speech at every turn.”
It is therefore commendable that the President of Guyana has asked Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall to explore, within the United Nations’ system, all means available to hold to account all those who spread race hate and instigate racial strife.
Silence, like Guterres said, can signal indifference to bigotry and intolerance. Therefore, not getting to the bottom of what occurred along the WCB, and who instigated the violence to escalate, is setting a dangerous precedent. As we have seen over the past week, such incitement led to hostility, violence, racial profiling and discrimination.
On December 11, 1968, Guyana singed on to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and on February 15, 1977, it was ratified. Being a signatory to the resolution, we must stand and enforce the principles to which we agreed. Like many other countries, Guyana has adopted, and signed on to the UN commitment to adopt, a common understanding of the root causes and drivers of hate and inciting speech, in order to take relevant action.
Likewise, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) should investigate inciteful statements made to WCB residents. Certainly, those irresponsible politicians cannot be innocent parties to such hate statements that have led this country into unrest.
This publication supports President Ali’s decision to leave no stone unturned in this matter, and to use all available tools not only to solve the murders, but also to get a comprehensive and holistic picture of all the events surrounding what took place thereafter. It is Michelle Bachelet who told the United Nations Human Rights Council recently, “Like COVID-19, racism and xenophobia are contagious killers.”