While acknowledging that politically directed surveillance of civilians by military authorities is an ominous development, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) believes good governance principles in Guyana appear to be wearing away.
The GHRA, in a statement to the media yesterday, declared that “political surveillance by civil authorities in well-established democratic societies is always a sensitive matter. In our context of rudimentary democratic traditions, inexperienced and zealous political leadership, surveillance by military authorities is an ominous development.”
The statement came in the wake of the recent botched covert Army operation and countless questions surrounding the series of events that claimed the lives of three persons on Carifesta Avenue last December.
The Human Rights body contends that the existence of such an operation also suggests that lines between the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition; the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF) are becoming “once again somewhat blurred”.
The GHRA opines that the goodwill which the Government has thus far enjoyed from a wide cross-section of citizens “well beyond active supporters” of the APNU/AFC is now being tested by a perception.
According to the GHRA, it was far from reassuring that President David Granger “seems to feel that once the GDF is satisfied” as it relates to the surveillance operation that had been conducted outside the home of Mr Winston Brassington, the Executive Director of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), the many questions raised by civil society had no merit.
The GHRA also stated that in a society where incompetent implementation frequently obscured original intention, the GDF was vulnerable to having well-meaning involvement in Government activities perceived in more sinister terms.
“Furthermore, creeping expansion of the role of the military is encouraged by enmeshing anti-corruption into the counter-terrorism rhetoric. This development, prompted from abroad, is currently driving hasty re-alignment of Guyanese laws and financial institutions that far exceed domestic requirements. Moreover, despite efforts to project the Special Organised Crimes Unit (SOCU) as required by the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Financing of Terrorism Act (AML-CFTA), this is not the case,” the GHRA stated.
The Human Rights body also alluded to the fact that SOCU was initially set up without recourse to Parliament in order to strengthen Guyana’s capacity to “investigate suspicious financial transactions that are suggestive of money laundering”, as declared by former Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon in 2013.
When the Unit had been established, it was placed under the authority of the GPF, not the GDF, the Rights Association noted.
According to the GHRA, the most disturbing features of technical changes imposed in response to international pressure are the multiple opportunities they provide to suspend civil liberties and bypass democratic processes.
It pointed out that the “current ‘Operation Dragnet’, described as ‘a massive anti-crime and counter-terrorism operation’, is a logical progression in this disturbing sequence, despite being airily passed off as normal for the Army to support the country’s law enforcement and regulatory agencies in operational activities.”
The GHRA also stated that assurances would be welcome over the extent to which the shadowy electronic surveillance capacity established under the previous Government, referred to as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is being deployed in “Operation Dragnet”.
It declared that such speculation is encouraged by the dominant priority assigned to the Government’s anti-corruption campaign which remains insulated from public scrutiny, marginalising other policy discussions.
The GHRA is of the view that a broader discussion of military involvement would allay any disquiet that these activities fall within their traditional constitutional role of assisting the civil power in maintaining law and order, when required to do so.
“In addition to the requirements of civil law in the cases of any untimely deaths, therefore, the multiple political and legal questions raised by the incident in question require a parliamentary statement from the Ministry of the Presidency, referencing all the legitimate questions raised. Public reassurance would be further advanced with respect to all of the above were the coalition Government to develop the practice of strengthening its capacities by engaging all sectors of civil society rather than by turning so readily to the military sector,” the GHRA posited.