His Excellency Brigadier David Granger: Thank you, Madam Chairperson, Chief Justice Ian Chang; thank you for the introduction. Honourable Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh; Minister of Social Protection, Mrs. Volda Lawrence; Chief Justice of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Justice Margaret Ramsay-Hale; Legal Advisor of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Mr. Mark Godfrey; members of the diplomatic corps, Commissioner of Police, Mr. Seelall Persaud; Members of the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association; Members of the Judiciary; Members of Civil society; representatives of the non-governmental organisations here, members of the media, invitees:
I would like to thank the Chancellor of the Judiciary for his kind invitation to be here this morning and to give me the opportunity to address you on some matters which are of concern to me and, basically, the question I ask is, “Where does the violence come from?”
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, what we called ‘giving licks’, was the conventional, even commendable form of correction that some parents would even recommend the school master to administer some ‘licks’. 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, far from accepted; these incidents have degenerated into an epidemic. The most deadly in this country have been characterized by arson, sometimes with the family still inside the house; execution murders, mass suicide, murder-suicides, rape-murders, mutilation and torture, even within families, within households and within villages. These constitute the most vicious, the most virulent and the most prevalent crimes of violence in Guyana today.
Guyanese are experiencing the secondary impact of surviving in homes, of attending schools and of growing up in communities where criminal violence persists or was recently prevalent. Televised and other media images of policemen shooting to death an unarmed young man with his hands in the air; corpses of suspects dragged through yards and thrown onto trucks or boats; carcasses floating in canals or washed up on the foreshore and, in a 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 in some villages are still marked with the bullet holes as perpetual reminders. Children have become orphans; such violence inevitably migrated from the street into the home. The Guyana Police Force reported that, during the 3,651 days of the decade 2005 to 2014, it received 39, 566 reports of domestic violence. So you can work it out – over ten reports per day, Sundays included.
In this country, the ‘Troubles’ is the name given to the decade roughly between 2000 and 2009 that witnessed this country’s most intense and sustained wave of criminal violence since independence. There were over 1,400 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 to conduct inquests into the assassination of its own Minister of Agriculture at La Bonne Intention; of the assassination of the head of the Police Force’s Target Special Squad on the Linden-Soesdyke Highway; of the assassination 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 which occurred at Agricola, Bagotstown-Eccles, Bartica, Bourda, Campbellville, Kitty, Lamaha Gardens, Lindo Creek, Lusignan and elsewhere. A generation of Guyanese, a generation 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, against 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 the years of criminal violence they witnessed on the streets and the events that they saw in the media. The scars of the ‘Troubles’ are still visible. Some communities such as 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 of 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 the 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 which was raging in the early days of the century as, and I quote, “drug-gang warfare.” He invented the expression, and I quote ‘phantom force’ to describe the gangs responsible for the perpetration of executions and 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 phantom force’s links to a prominent Government Minister. A Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate whether the Minister of Home Affairs was implicated in and I quote “…promoting, directing or otherwise engaged in activities which involved the extrajudicial killing of persons.” End of the quote – that is from the Terms of Reference from the Commission of Inquiry. 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.
Ladies and gentlemen it would have been impossible for any society to have survived the ‘Troubles’ which Guyana endured without suffering the after effects, the secondary impact. The bandits, the phantom force and rogue policemen caused many deaths. The violence perpetrated by rogue policemen under the pretext of conducting investigations, when in fact there was only intimidation, has left permanent scars. The arbitrary arrests, unwarranted detentions, deliberate shootings, torture, deaths in custody and sham inquiries have had a cumulative, corrosive secondary impact on society today.
Many persons 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 young people. 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.
Ladies and gentlemen, the eradication of domestic violence has to 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 in Guyana are addressed. Guyana, indeed, has promulgated a raft of laws aimed at deterring domestic violence by punishing its perpetrators and protecting victims or potential victims.
These laws, as you shall hear over the next few days, include the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offenses Act, the Prevention of Crimes Act, the Evidence Act, and the Criminal Procedures Act; and I’m sure there are many other Acts that you can hear of but the law has limitations. The law cannot deal with the impact of domestic violence on society; the law cannot rebuild shattered lives and broken homes; the law unfortunately does not address the causes of violence.
Laws can punish, they cannot, without an examination of the causes of the crimes, eradicate the scourge of criminal violence and the secondary outcome of domestic violence. The legislation is essential but explanations are also needed. 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 and I quote “Domestic violence should not be seen or defined as simply a set of abusive behaviour: at the root of domestic violence is the real perceived inequality and subordination particularly of women (and children) which extend 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 behaviour which have been learned, especially the attitude to equality.”
Violence in the home cannot be separated from violence in society and violence in the state. The primary causes of domestic violence may, as is commonly believed, be drunkenness, drug abuse or everyday domestic disputes. These factors may foster domestic violence but I do not believe that they are the causes. Criminal violence is likely to be most prevalent in unequal societies. Domestic violence similarly is likely to flourish in unequal relationships in households.
It is a result of a complex interplay of cultural, psychological and social factors which create an imbalance of power between parties in a relationship or parties in a state. This imbalance, which can lead to domination and abuse, is at the root of domestic violence. Violence, if I can paraphrase the Chancellor; “…violence is not a social necessity, it is a human invention aimed at generating and perpetuating domination of one person or one group by another.”
Guyana seeks to significantly reduce and, eventually, eradicate the infamy of domestic violence. This 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, therefore, both in the home and in the state, is a prerequisite for happy homes and a gentler country.
I thank you.