[www.inewsguyana.com] – On March 24, the word observed International Day for the Right to the Truth Surrounding Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. On this day, we honour the memory of victims of gross and systemic human rights violations and promote the importance of the right to truth and justice.
The Colwyn Harding Support Group, human rights groups, and other public-spirited supporters picketed outside of the Providence Magistrates Court demanding justice for Colwyn Harding. Call it irony or fate that his court date coincided with such an important day for those involved in the struggle for human rights. Whatever it is, human rights groups are determined to continue the fight until Colwyn Harding receives justice.
The Colwyn Harding case is among the gravest violations of dignity and human rights in our country’s history. The truth of the case is known, yet the State has shown disinterest in pursuing and representing that truth despite the conflicting testimony of the police officers involved and the clear evidence presented by Colwyn Harding and his support group. Nevertheless, what is beyond question is that since the incident, Colwyn Harding was hospitalized for more than 33 days and has had to undergo surgery to repair his damaged intestines.
He has accused the police of abusing, brutalizing and raping him with a condom-covered baton. In fact, the state in its most recent response has said that Colwyn is not entitled to compensation despite the evidence of two medical examinations – one conducted at a private hospital in Guyana and another by a doctor in Jamaica – both indicating that there was trauma to the upper rectum and that this was consistent with Colwyn Harding’s account of what had happened.
Ranks of the Guyana Police Force have been accused of abusing their power and using sexual violence against citizens, which amount to gross human rights violations. The Guyana Police Force is the state agency charged with security and protection of the citizenry, but instead has been responsible for multiple assaults on the human rights of the citizens it should be serving. These crimes by the police, ostensibly called “interrogation”, have increasingly used sexual violence as a means of torture. Torture is a gross human rights violation for which the State’s connivance, tacit or active complicity should not be ignored. The case of Colwyn Harding and Twyon Thomas are examples of these brutal “interrogation” methods which are flagrant rights abuses.
Still gross human rights violations refer too to the continuous failure to address systematic issues of discrimination and harsh treatment whether by individuals or persons in authority. In cases of human trafficking, the police have been accused by some of the victims of negotiating with their captors for sexual favors in return for allowing them (the captor and the trafficked) to pass through the road blocks set up to monitor persons entering the interior without proper identification. There is a constant battle between the police and citizens when these allegations are made and oftentimes, victims do not receive justice and their voices are silenced by those in authority.
In Guyana, incidents of sexual violence are occurring on a daily basis; women, girls, men and boys are all falling victims to this heinous crime. Just recently, the Child Care and Protection Agency reported that they received more than 570 cases of childhood sexual abuse for 2013. Most recently, a 16-year old girl ingested poison because of continued unwanted sexual advancements by a teacher. When she refused his advances, he targeted her and treated her unfairly at school.
On February 23, a 19-year old girl was found raped and murdered in an East Coast village. On February 17, a woman was also found raped and murdered along the Timehri backlands. Most horrifying of all recent reports, was that of the 3-year old child who died as a result of injuries sustained after being anally raped by a relative last year.
Of dire concern too are the multitudes of rape victims who continue to suffer in silence because of this culture we have in Guyana of victim blaming. While we have a very comprehensive Sexual Offences Act, it is not being fully implemented making it even more difficult for justice to be served to survivors. In incidents where the crime is reported, few ever make it to trial and even fewer offenders are actually prosecuted. This has caused many victims not to report crimes and has resulted in a rape culture where sexual predators dwell without fear and practice their depravity with impunity.
Many organizations in Guyana have taken note of how sexual violence is destroying our society and have resolved to work harder to highlight the issue and work towards securing justice for victims. Organizations such as Red Thread, SASOD and Help and Shelter have been working for years to end the assault on the human rights and dignity of people. These organizations have been collaborating on these issues, including the Colwyn Harding case, and on Sunday, March 30, 2014 will be hosting a Public Forum on the Use of Sexual Violence in Gross Human Rights Violations.
Our intention is to discuss and develop an action plan for collectively addressing these issues. The Forum will be held at the auditorium of Saint Stanislaus College from 14:00hrs to 17:00hrs and is open to the public. We encourage all concerned citizens to come out and participate.
Finally, as we commemorate International Day for the Right to the Truth Surrounding Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, let us remember Colwyn Harding and many other Guyanese who have fallen victims to gross human rights violations in our country. We very much look forward to your readers’ participation at the public forum on Sunday as we work together to end this scourge.
Wintress White, Red Thread
Danuta Radzik, Help and Shelter
Norwell Hinds, Colwyn Harding Support Group
Tiffany Barry, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD)