President Granger addresses ‘secondary impact’ of criminal violence in Guyana

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President David Granger
President David Granger

Violence is not a political inevitability or social necessity, but rather a human invention aimed at generating and perpetuating domination of one group or person by another.

And as Guyana seeks to reduce and, eventually, eradicate the infamy of domestic violence, President David Granger said this objective requires a sincere and serious approach to ensuring the equality and respect for women, girls and other minorities.

“It will take time to undo decades of a culture of criminal violence. The removal of inequalities, both in the home and in the state, is a start. It is a prerequisite for happy homes and a gentler Guyana,” President Granger said in well-articulated address this morning to a ‘Seminar on Tackling Domestic Abuse in Guyana’ sponsored by the Supreme Court in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat, at the Marriott Guyana Hotel, Georgetown.

 

Following is the full text of President Granger’s address at the seminar:
Guyanese, a generation ago, may still have regarded domestic violence as a private matter. A man hitting his wife was considered a ‘family affair.’ A parent or teacher whipping a child – giving ‘licks’ – was the conventional, even commendable, form of correction. School fights were considered a regular part of the curriculum and dismissed with a comment that “boys will be boys.”

Everyday inter-personal violence, intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence today, however, are far from normal. These incidents have degenerated into an epidemic. The most deadly are usually characterised by arson, execution – murders, murder-suicides, rape-murders, massacres, mutilation and torture, even within families, households and villages. They constitute the most vicious, virulent and prevalent crimes of violence today.

Guyanese are experiencing the ‘secondary impact’ of surviving in homes, attending schools and growing up in communities where criminal violence persists or was recently prevalent.

Televised and other media images of policemen shooting to death an unarmed wanted man with his hands in the air; corpses of ‘suspects’ dragged though yards and thrown into trucks or boats; carcasses floating in canals or washed up on the foreshore and, in more gruesome news media, the bleeding bodies of beheaded men, have been impossible to avoid.

Memories of murder and violence are difficult to erase. Buildings are still marked with the bullet holes. Children became orphans. Violence then migrated from the street to the home. The Guyana Police Force reported that, during the 3,651 days of the decade 2005-2014, it received 39, 566 reports of domestic violence.

THE TROUBLES

The ‘Troubles’ is the name given to the decade – between 2000 and 2009 – that witnessed this country’s most intense and sustained wave of criminal violence since independence. There were 1,431 murders during that decade, more than at any other similar period in the modern history of Guyana.

The previous administration never bothered to account to this nation for the hundreds of lives lost through criminal violence.

It refused even to conduct inquests into the assassinations of its own Minister of Agriculture at La Bonne Intention; of the head of the Police Force’s Target Special Squad on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway; of the deputy head of the Customs Narcotics Unit in Buxton and of the attempted assassination of the Director of Public Prosecution in Kitty.

It refused to conduct inquiries into the massacres in Agricola, Bagotstown-Eccles, Bartica, Bourda, Campbellville, Kitty, Lamaha Gardens, Lindo Creek, Lusignan and elsewhere.

A generation of Guyanese – which was an unwilling witness to criminal violence – has now grown up. The agony, anger and alienation caused by violence against citizens, especially the innocent and the young still simmer. The crimes have not been explained. The memories have not been erased.

Many are suffering in their bedrooms and schoolyards from the aftershock of the ‘secondary impact’ of years of criminal violence they saw on the streets and in the media.

The scars of the ‘Troubles’ are still visible. Some communities — at Bartica, Buxton and Kingston — have become so unsettled by the violence that they erected monuments to the victims.

The ‘Troubles,’ no doubt, was the consequence of a high-level condonation of, or complicity with, the rise of drug cartels and the importation of illegal narcotics and weapons. These crimes brought an unprecedented wave of criminal violence into this country during the first decade of this century. The consequence of this narco-trade, particularly, has been a bloody battle to extend drug empires and to eliminate anyone who resisted them.

The Chairman of the Central Intelligence Committee– who during that period was also Head of the Presidential Secretariat – described the criminal violence in the early years of this century as “drug-gang warfare.” He invented the expression ‘phantom force’ to describe the gangs responsible for the perpetration of execution murders.

The Force, of course, was no ‘phantom.’ It was real. Any mystery about its origins and operations evaporated in October 2003 when a repentant gangster made the startling decision to confess his transgressions and to expose the Force’s links to a government minister.

A Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate whether the Minister of Home Affairs was implicated in “promoting, directing or otherwise engaged in activities which involved the extra-judicial killing of persons.”

Before the would-be testifier could testify, however, he was shot dead in his bed, sadly, on the night of 24th June, eight days before the Commission was sworn in on 2nd July 2004.

Secondary impact

It would have been impossible for any society to have survived the ‘Troubles’ which Guyana endured without suffering a ‘secondary impact’ – the after effects. The bandits, ‘the phantom force’ and rogue policemen caused many deaths; too many to be easily forgotten.

The violence perpetrated by rogue policemen under the pretext of conduction of investigations, when in fact there was only intimidation, has left permanent scars. The arbitrary arrests, unwarranted detentions, deliberate shootings, torture, and sham inquiries have had a cumulative, corrosive ‘secondary impact’ on society.

Many failed to comprehend how violent the drug war had become. Many failed to fathom the repercussions of the prolonged violence which claimed the lives of an unprecedented, and still undetermined, number of policemen and youths.

Opposition members of the National Assembly compiled a ‘Dossier in Support of an Independent Legal Interrogation of Grave Human Rights Abuses in Guyana’ on state-sponsored violence and other crimes. They, too, tried to comprehend the enormity of this terrible human tragedy.

CAUSATION

Attempts at the eradication of domestic violence must start with an investigation into causation. It matters little how many laws are enacted; the core problem will not be solved unless the core causes of domestic violence are understood.

Guyana has promulgated a raft of laws aimed at deterring domestic violence, punishing its perpetrators and protecting victims. These laws include the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offenses Act, the Prevention of Crimes Act, the Evidence Act and the Criminal (Procedures) Act.

The law has limitations. The law cannot deal with the impact of violence. The law cannot rebuild shattered lives and broken homes.

Laws can punish. They cannot, without an examination of the causes of the crimes, eradicate the scourge of criminal violence and, its secondary outcome, domestic violence. Legislation is essential. Explanations however, are needed, also.

Domestic violence and the culture of violence are by-products of the emergence, through time, of unequal relations in society and the state. I recall:

“Domestic violence should not be seen or defined as simply a set of abusive behavior: at the root of domestic violence is the real perceived inequality and subordination of women (and children) which extends beyond the individual or family to the wider society… Any campaign to eradicate domestic violence, therefore, must aim at nothing less than changing the deep-seated cultural attitudes and behavior that have been learnt.”

Violence in the home cannot be separated from violence in society and the state. The primary cause of domestic violence may not be, as is commonly believed, drunkenness, drug abuse or everyday disputes. These factors may foster domestic violence but they are not its causes.

Criminal violence is likely to be most prevalent in unequal societies. Domestic violence, similarly, is likely to flourish in unequal relationships. It is a result of “a complex interplay of cultural, psychological and social factors which have combined to create an imbalance of power between parties in a relationship.” This imbalance which can lead to domination and abuse is at the root of domestic violence.

Violence is not a political inevitability or social necessity. It is a human invention. It is aimed at generating and perpetuating domination of one group or person by another.

Guyana seeks to reduce and, eventually, eradicate the infamy of domestic violence. This objective requires a sincere and serious approach to ensuring the equality and respect for women, girls and other minorities.

It will take time to undo decades of a culture of criminal violence. The removal of inequalities, both in the home and in the state, is a start. It is a prerequisite for happy homes and a gentler Guyana.

I thank you.

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