Address to the Nation by Mr. Robert H. O. Corbin, MP Sunday, March 09, 2003

Fellow Guyanese: After careful thought and reflection on the serious matters, which face our nation, I took the decision to write to the President and Head of Government, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo bringing these grave concerns to his attention. I now consider it prudent to bring these matters to your attention so that public concerns, which require immediate attention, can be properly understood and addressed. This is necessary if our society is to be prevented from descending into anarchy.

The tragic events of March 1, 2003, have shocked the entire Nation and the international community. Sadly, our country has established a dismal record of international recognition and notoriety for our disgraceful and deteriorating human rights situation.

The despicable murder of Yohance Douglas, allegedly by members of the Guyana Police Force, the critical injury suffered by Ronson Gray, and the traumatic experience of the other young men who were brutally thrown into a cell at the Brickdam Police Station, and there terrorized by known members of the notorious Black Clothes Squad, have evoked national and international condemnation.

That these heinous crimes were committed in broad daylight, in full view of numerous witnesses, some of whose testimony I have been privileged to hear, is evidence of the depths to which our society has sunk and is a clear indication of what the future holds if this trend is not arrested immediately.

After frantic attempts by the police to criminalize these young men who are of impeccable character, the Commissioner of Police finally admitted that two of the law enforcement officers, members of the newly formed Fountain Squad, have been placed on Desk Duty, pending an internal investigation.

That report was promised yesterday and, while I place no merit or confidence in any internal report from the Police on this matter, it is noteworthy that the report has not yet been completed or made available. That does not surprise us. Similar strategies were employed by the Police and the Government when Colin McGregor was murdered, almost in similar fashion on the Corentyne and when Shaka Blair was killed in his bedroom, in the presence of his wife and son, by a party of the notorious Black Clothes Squad.

The young victims of this latest outrage represent the best of young Guyanese manhood, University students and athletes, with healthy and wholesome attitudes to life. The frantic attempt by the Police to label them criminals is a gross insult to all of Guyana. It is also a reflection of the modus operandi of the Police Force for several years, during which more than two hundred Guyanese have been summarily executed in similar fashion.

Over several years, the Justice for Jermaine Committee, the Guyana Human Rights Association, the People’s National Congress Reform and several other organizations in Guyana have repeatedly brought to the Government’s attention the heinous crimes that have continued to be carried out, unabated, by these rogue elements of the Guyana Police Force. The issue of extra-judicial killings has been a matter of public outrage by Guyanese at home and abroad. Yet, to date, no tangible effort has been made by President Bharrat Jagdeo or his Government to correct this barbaric situation and, if anything, the situation has become much worse.

My Party is of the view that these incidents have continued to occur because the Government has refused to deal with this matter, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence provided by reputable sources, including several reports from the Guyana Human Rights Association. It is no surprise that most Guyanese have concluded that these acts have been sanctioned and condoned by the Government. There is also the widespread perception, not unsupported by hard evidence, that the Government has facilitated and encouraged the growth of a breed of gangsters within the Police Force who, in collaboration with known drug operatives, are allowed to operate outside the confines of the Law.

No public policy purpose can be served by this madness. In fact the justice system has been brought into disrepute. Respectable and honourable members of the Guyana Police Force have been demoralized and public confidence in this organization has been totally destroyed. Yet, despite this precarious national security situation and numerous calls by the PNCR and other national organisations, the Government of President Bharrat Jagdeo has adamantly refused to appoint a Commission to conduct a public enquiry into the operations of the Guyana Police Force.

We had hoped that the government would take note of the seriousness of the situation, the gravity of the crimes committed and the effect of these outrages on Guyana’s reputation and international standing. We have exercised great patience and restraint, in the perhaps vain hope that the government would find it possible to react with compassion and decency in the national interest, and in response to the concerns and sense of hurt felt by a wide cross section of society.

We have come to the sad conclusion that such a response may be beyond the government. Indeed, I am in receipt of certain reports which are indeed very disturbing and point to the probability that the government is moving in the opposite direction. Recent remarks made by the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Gajraj, and reported by the GINA, the State News Agency suggest that these reports may have much substance.

Among the disturbing reports I have received are that,


not all the persons involved in the murder of Yohance Douglas on March 1, were regular Policemen and some may even have been members of the notorious “Phantom Squad”;

the Minister of Home Affairs had personally hand-picked at least one of the persons involved in the murder and shooting incident and transferred him from the East Coast Division into the newly established Fountain Squad;

these squads are paid a bounty of three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000.00) for every killing of persons whose names appear on a list provided to them by the regime;

since the events of March 1, the relatives of the young men involved are in constant fear due to continuous intimidatory behaviour by certain ranks of the Police Force;

the homes of Ronson Gray in North Ruimveldt and Yohance Douglas in South Ruimveldt have been subjected to unusually frequent patrols by parties of armed policemen who slow down in the vicinity and indulge in menacing gestures. [ I visited both of these homes on Friday last and this information was confirmed by the mother of Ronston Gray in the presence of a news reporter from a local T/V station and by Dr. Orin Douglas, the brother of Yohance Douglas;

The Government’s advisors have expressed the view that the regime can ignore the present public outrage by stalling for time in the hope that the activity by the University of Guyana Students and other sections of Society will fade away. We are informed that the police report will identify a sacrificial lamb allow the others to go free and do nothing about the major issue of reform of the Police Force and extra judicial killings.

Fellow Guyanese,

The issues, which are at stake, go to the very heart and soul of our nation and whether we continue as a part of the free world or become one of the rogue states of the world, besmirched by the stain of state terrorism and state sponsored cold-blooded murder. Many groups and organizations are expressing their outrage on this matter and have joined with the students of the University of Guyana in their protest and actions against terror and injustice. The PNCR and others in Guyana have, for several years, waged a continuous battle for an end to extra-judicial killings. It is therefore a positive development that this issue is recognised by all as requiring immediate attention.

The PNC Reform will continue to give full support to the work of these groups. However, it should be obvious to all that the issue of extra-judicial killing goes beyond the murder of Yohance Douglas and a student of the University of Guyana. A PNCR publication of July 2002 listed the names and published the photographs of several victims of this rampage that has been ongoing over the past five years. Similarly, a report published by the Guyana Human Rights Association in February 2001, “A report on Fatal Shootings by the Police in Guyana” provides useful information on the magnitude of this issue. That publication listed the names and details the circumstances of fatal Police killings over several years. For example, in 1996 there were 16, in 1997, there were 23, in 1998, there were10, in 1999, there were 9, in 2000, there were 11 and in 2001 there were 13 such killings by the Police.

These statistics do not reflect an accurate picture for there are hundreds of other victims who have been brutalised and who still bear scars from police action. More recently, there have been several reports of young people regularly being stopped on the streets and harassed and intimidated by certain ranks of the police force. Other persons have reported being severely beaten. I am also aware of numerous reports of such actions on which recommendations were made for disciplinary action, but nothing has been done by the relevant authorities. The result is that no one now believes that reporting these incidents make any sense.

These disturbing facts have compelled me to make certain demands of the President. Among other things we demand that no expense must be spared by the Government to ensure that Ronson Gray is provided with the best medical care needed to restore him to full health. Our information is that he requires specialised medical treatment, which may not be available to him in Guyana. A positive assurance must be given by those responsible for his medical recovery.

We demand that the identities of all the alleged policemen involved in the Yohance Douglas incident must be made public. This is essential to quell the plausible allegation that some of the persons involved in the shooting were not policemen, but in fact were members of the notorious “Phantom Force.” Further, the names of the ranks involved in the intimidation of the other young people in the Brickdam cell must also be released.

The Commissioner has stated that only two of the persons involved have been placed on desk duties. Is it possible that the Police have concluded their cover-up and determined that only two are culpable or, have the other three been let loose to continue their rampage?

We wish to emphasise that no report from an internal enquiry by the Guyana Police Force can be regarded as acceptable or credible. We therefore recommend that, in the interest of credibility, any enquiry into this incident should be by an independent authority and should include participation of reputable national and international Human Rights organizations.

The government must recognize the necessity for the immediate appointment of a Commission to hold a public inquiry into the operations of the Guyana Police Force. It is significant that the first public recognition of the existence of a Fountain Squad, the planned substitute for the Black Clothes Squad, is now forever indelibly etched on the conscience of the Guyanese nation through the murder of an eighteen year old University of Guyana student.

The time is right for all of the forces of civil society, the UGSS, the youth groups, the churches and religious organisations, trade unions, sports organisations and all other concerned groups to unite in a broad based movement that would work to ensure that extra judicial killings come to an end now. We believe that the chaos, madness and injustice, which have characterized this country over the past seven years, have gone on for too long. Unless this is done the Government will continue to behave as they have done from the case of Jermaine Wilkinson to Shaka Blair. To this end we are fully committed and have ordered the maximum mobilisation of our members.

I wish to assure the decent and professional officers in the Guyana Police Force that we understand your embarrassment and frustration. We wish to assure every widow and grieving mother that we feel your pain.

Tonight, on behalf of the Central Executive of the Party, I call on all our members and supporters throughout the country to stand ready and mobilised for action. There have been many calls for all parties in our society to work towards peace in our country, but in the words of Martin Luther King,

“True Peace is not merely the absence of tension
It is the presence of Justice”

The struggle for justice requires that we commit ourselves to the cause with courage and resolution.

Before I conclude I would like to express words of comfort to the businessmen and all residents and their families in New Amsterdam who have suffered great losses from the recent devastating fire. It is my hope that God will give you the strength in this hour of pain to overcome the losses you have suffered.

May the Almighty God give us all in Guyana the strength and will to overcome our present difficulties.

Good night to you all.