Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Niles’s death reminds us of dangerous trends which are developing

Niles’s death reminds us of dangerous trends which are developing
Stabroek News. July 29, 2008. Letters

Dear Editor,
I refer to Mr T King’s letter captioned ‘Prisoner said he found bullets at army camp’ (GC July 26) in response to a letter by me seeking clarification on the government’s position on torture (SN July 25). King wrote, “The President said that his administration does not sanction torture and she ought to believe that.” I am indeed saddened by this statement and would wish to suggest that such a demand would only stem from a society where progressive, democratic thinking is alien. If Guyanese are to shut up and just accept what the President and his administration tell us we should very well declare this a dictatorial state, and cease touting around the world that Guyana is some kind of democracy. I believe the President and his administration should be worried that someone supporting the government is making such damaging statements. In addition, comments such as these may offer a good reason to critics as to why those who question the government and offer negative criticisms are apparently singled out for unwarranted treatment by the government. Look at SN and the ads; Kaieteur News and the threats; Gordon Moseley and his persona non grata status; Oliver Hinckson and his sedition/treason charge; Nagamootoo and his ‘prodigal son’ status, and the list goes on. It is not good enough for the President to say one thing and then his government’s action to intimate otherwise.

On the issue of torture it is public knowledge that the Government of Guyana is a signatory to human rights conventions which make torture unlawful; however, one would assume that any government which fully subscribes to the text and spirit of these would demonstrate that its position on torture is clear. Guyanese must not get mixed signals. For instance, in the wake of the torture claims the Minister of Home Affairs made statements to the effect that Guyanese were more interested in the stuff they got in barrels than any allegation of torture. An apology was never given to the people of Guyana. Then, months after the torture report was said to have been completed the nation is still waiting for its release. In the interim, a prisoner is burnt and beaten to death while in custody. Aren’t these mixed signals that are being sent to the people? One would assume that any torture complaint would have been treated with dispatch, but instead the entire nation is in limbo on the issue, while the administration seems not to be bothered.

Now, Mr King tells us to shut up and believe the President, even though there are these glaring concerns and talk appears to be out of sync with action. What should we believe?

Mr King tells me that Niles might have been beaten by other prisoners before the police got him. If this is so, there are serious problems regarding the proper supervision of prisoners while they are out working in the community, which is a further cause for concern for the community. Thus my question on the state of the investigations, since only proper investigation will reveal what actually happened. The question now becomes whether other prisoners were allowed to beat Niles to death, or whether they were unsupervised at the time of the beating, and burning? If the first, it might be the open sanctioning of torture, if the latter, then it might be serious administration glitches which tacitly encourage torture. Herein lie the dilemma and the confusion. What are Guyanese to believe?
In his letter, while King states the administration does not condone torture, he went on to suggest that torturing criminals might be justified. This is the usual kind of “unthinkable shallow psychology” those like Mr King try on the Guyanese people, who will not be sold on cheap, backward politics. The fact is, no Guyanese would say that those who reap havoc in our society should be treated lightly. From the drug cartels, the massacre crew, the phantom gang, the kick-down-the-door bandits, the rapists, the child molesters, the white-collar criminals, the market thieves, the ‘Texas Rangers,’ etc, the fact is, every law-abiding Guyanese is demanding that the full extent of the law is meted out to those who are bent on disrupting the lives of others. Similarly, every Guyanese understands that it is only a court of law which can impose the proper penalty on these persons once they are found guilty. And beating a prisoner to death is definitely not the way to go about solving the problem, unless we declare that Moses’ Law is the order of the day. Remember the intention is to solve the crime, not to criminalize the society more and further dampen the relationship between the security forces and the citizenry. Co-operation is needed on all fronts to stem the crime tide that has engulfed Guyana within recent years.
Mr King states that “Niles broke the law and should have known better not to smuggle ammunition in the prison.” This statement is again another sad revelation; the suggestion is that Niles should have imagined that he was likely to be beaten to death for his action. Isn’t this cruel thinking tantamount to promoting torture? Let the court deal with Niles, and all other accused. King said in his letter, “Do not let your heart bleed for convicts like Niles.” The issue is not one of ‘bleeding hearts’ for convicts; it is ‘bleeding hearts’ to ensure that the human rights of Guyanese are protected. There are too many instances and allegations of the infringement of people’s human rights, and this certainly does not look good on the part of the government.

These are serious issues which we must address without partisan motives and without the sole interest being the defence of the authorities. I believe that there needs to be a clear statement followed by corresponding action on the part of the government regarding torture. Guyanese deserve this much.

So, yes, as we lament the brutal slaying of the Lindo Creek victims, the Lusignan victims, the Bartica victims, Kalamadeen’s beheading, Ronald Waddell’s execution, Minister Sawh’s slaying, those young men slaughtered and kidnapped during that infamous period, and many more we must acknowledge the unprecedented level of crime in Guyana. Niles’s death must remind us of dangerous developing trends, where those legitimately tasked with the responsibility to protect Guyanese are accused of committing heinous crimes. So, we must likewise mourn Niles’s death.
Yours faithfully,
Lurlene Nestor

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