Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Responsibility to Protect


Posted By Stabroek staff On August 4, 2009 @ 5:01 am In Editorial | 2 Comments

Recent pronouncements on human rights in Guyana seem to have collided with the new international doctrine of the state’s ‘Responsibility to Protect.’ Widely known as ‘R2P,’ this doctrine has become an important part of international relations. It defines both the state’s responsibilities towards its citizens and the international community’s responsibility, in the event that the state fails to fulfil its responsibilities to protect its own population.

The principles of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ prescribe that, if a state is unwilling or unable to carry out its responsibility to prevent egregious violations of human rights such as genocide or massive killings, responsibility for doing so must be transferred to the international community, which must attempt to solve problems by peaceful means initially and, as a last resort, by military force.

Was the validity of the doctrine of the state’s ‘Responsibility to Protect’ being questioned when President Bharrat Jagdeo last Wednesday referred to allegations of mistreatment by the security forces of persons arrested in connection with the arson at the Ministry of Health?

The President declared that “there seems to be a new campaign, supported by some sections of the media, that is focusing attention on human rights issues rather than the fervent effort to apprehend the criminal masterminds responsible for such a reprehensible act… I think this is disgusting but it’s a very clever strategy… This is the kind of warped logic that we have in this country and it’s all a smokescreen painted deliberately so that people don’t see the real issues and the real perpetrators… Why bother with the fire, loss of millions, and people across the country suffering, their records lost… why bother with that? Let us focus on this one thing and make it look like the whole government is beating people on the streets and violating their human rights and all that stuff.”

The point about the doctrine of the state’s ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is that, although the state has an obligation to protect its physical property − such as government buildings from fire and Defence Force weapons from theft − it has a higher responsibility to protect human beings from torture and extrajudicial killing, especially by its security forces. So far, the public has not been satisfied with the administration’s investigations in the allegations of Michael Dunn, Victor Jones, Sharth Robertson, Patrick Sumner, Alvin Wilson and others who claimed that they were tortured by members of the Guyana Defence Force. Nor have these citizens been compensated for their injuries.

The language and behaviour displayed by ministers of the government also suggest that the R2P doctrine is either not fully understood or is being deliberately trivialised. Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud, for example, told the National Assembly in October last year that claims by some of the alleged victims of torture were ‘false’ and added that the inquiry had found only cases of “roughing up.” He attempted to rationalise their mistreatment by suggesting that, in light of the “new face of criminality,” the security forces would use “a certain amount of physical and mental pressure” in order to get information.

Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee also, responding to concerns about the mediaeval conditions at Brickdam lock-ups, declared coldly, “…a police station lock-up is not a hotel room at Buddy’s or Pegasus. If you don’t want to go in a police lock-ups, stay out of trouble… Once you want to commit an infraction of the law and are apprehended, you have to suffer the consequences. All societies are made up in this way.”

If the state refuses to accept its absolute ‘responsibility to protect’ its own citizens from abuse, what should the people do?
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