Equal Rights and Justice for All Guyanese

Published: February 17, 2014

 In recent years, Guyana has witnessed an upsurge in violent crimes leaving our citizens feeling very insecure, but also creating an atmosphere where we almost expect and accept the news of yet another murder, yet another child being abused, yet another case of police brutality, and even another report of a police officer being gunned down in the line of duty. In 2013, 29 persons were victims of domestic-related murders. There were steady reports of children being abused, molested or neglected; in fact, the Childcare and Protection agency received 2925 reports of child abuse for 2013 with 574 of them being cases of sexual abuse. In 2013 as well, there were at least two reports of hyper-violent homicides against homosexual and transgender persons: Delon Melville of Mocha, East Bank Demerara, and Nandkumar Punwassie, also known as Darshanie, of Tain, Berbice.

One often wonders why it is that our society seemingly cannot escape the grip of violence and why we seem to be so passive in the face of it. However, a fair evaluation of our society would reveal that this violence cannot be separated from the violence of social and economic inequalities. Iana Seales in her February 8 Stabroek News  column titled “The Inequitable Distribution of our Progress,” rightfully points out that despite some economic growth, a large portion of the Guyanese population continues to live in poverty with little or no access to adequate healthcare, education, housing and protection under the law.
While most people are busy struggling to survive, more and more murders are occurring and they remain unsolved. The Guyana police continue to abuse their powers with impunity; torturing and killing our young men and our people are not calling for them to be held accountable and for reform of the Guyana Police Force. Our silence in 2003 when Yohance Douglas was murdered led to the 2012 murder of Shaquille Grant. Our silence in 2009 when Twyon Thomas was tortured by the police and his genitals set ablaze, led to the alleged abuse and rape of Colwyn Harding in November 2012 and the alleged rape of a teenage boy by police ranks this year. While some of us voiced our outrage when these incidents occurred and vowed never to allow it to happen again, as time progressed we lost momentum, or we decided it was too difficult to challenge the powers that be to address these matters, and these stories were lost with time.
It is in speaking out, standing strong, demanding justice and keeping the stories alive that we start the movement to demand change. However, as a people, this is a discipline we are yet to master. We only need to look at the revolutions occurring in the Arab Spring from 2010 in Tunisia to see that citizens coming together and demanding change can force governments to be held accountable. In Guyana, we can learn from the example set by Paula Niles, aunt of Tiffany – Wesley Holder – who boldly demands justice for her deceased relative who was murdered a year ago, and refuses to let her story be forgotten. In a society where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons face rampant discrimination, and anti-LGBT laws exist, this Guyanese woman, who boldly declares that she accepted Tiffany just as she was, continues to demand justice for her.
The tide does seem to be turning in Guyana however. This year, 2014, is shaping up to be one where people are ready to speak up and call for change. Members of the Guyana Trans United (GTU) organized a march on January 11 in memory of Tiffany, on her first death anniversary, and all the other LGBT persons who were victims of hate crimes. The GTU march was a bold step to call for justice in a country where the laws criminalise LGBT people for being who they are, and who they love.
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