Human Rights Protection Guaranteed By Inclusion Rather Than Exclusion

By Lincoln Lewis, General Secretary Guyana Trades Union Congress

The self-serving anti-progressive agenda of government must stop and fundamental human rights must be respected through urgent constitutional change geared towards guaranteeing inclusion rather than exclusion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10th 1948 is perhaps the single most important universal standard for the safety and security of humankind regardless of race, colour, class, creed, religious, political, or other fundamental differences. The continuous violation of these freedoms, as witnessed in Guyana has produced a state of hopelessness and willful systemic deprivation of those who are perceived not to be supportive of the status quo and not belonging to the same group.

The nation of Guyana was founded on the motto “One People, One Nation, One Destiny” by earlier, progressive thinkers and leaders who recognized that together we can build a united Guyana where all are treated equally, for all are one and there truly is no division that surmounts that which binds us as a people dependent on each other for individual and group survival. As we move further away from the ideal of One People, One Nation, One Destiny, and grow apart, as we fail to embrace these simple tenets and give them meaning and life, we are witnessing exponential increasing evidence of human rights violation, of good governance and nation building.

As the ranks of the oppressed swell, elections give an artificial surge of hope as the hopeless struggle to bring change in governance that continues to deny them, and as they come to the realization, that their hopes and aspirations will once again be dashed to the ground and trampled on.  Naively some will think and even articulate beliefs that the feared signs of disruption of the pseudo peace we face in 2011, as the world celebrates Human Rights, is simply rooted in electoral loss and being sore losers. Those who do so know that it goes deeper to the core of good governance and in systems where 48% can translate to 100%.  They know that Guyana is unlike the United States of America, other countries in the ABC grouping, and those in other progressive Caribbean and Western democracies, where regardless of which government is in power, government is held accountable and citizens are guaranteed that their fundamental human rights will be protected.

The post-independence Guyana Constitution enshrines fundamental rights of its citizens. This was a progressive move by a young country demonstrating its clear intention to take Guyana forward, to ensure that the rights of its most valuable resource are protected and treated equally. It is therefore not for the want of laws to protect human rights that Guyanese have, in recent times, been made to suffer the unprecedented nature and magnitude of indignities, brutality, violence and violations in the history of this country. It is the result of a lack of will to execute and abide by the fundamental tenets of good governance. It is a self-centeredness that speaks to an ideology that embraces supremacist thinking and beliefs. It is a blatant disregard for others. It is what encourages, rather than diffuses ethnic tensions, and which causes us to celebrate what divides us, other than what unifies us as a people. It is about the winner taking all and all others being subjected to tokenism, compromising themselves, their morality, dignity and pride in self and group as they are excluded from enjoying the benefits of a free and just society. After witnessing years of decline of human rights and dignities, it is clear that the laws enshrined in our constitution are not sufficient to protect us and are meaningless without the will to execute them and the will to hold those who violate them accountable.

Guyanese are seeing the corruption of every public office and countless public officials who operate above the law, with impunity. They are seeing one set deny them, and exclude them, from their right
to self-determination within our collective space and realities. They are seeing themselves relegated to the lowest rounds of the ladder, not because they lack the will, or the ability to climb, but because there are those who believe that government in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society such as ours, is about enshrining ethnic supremacy and triumphalism. Those whose only interest is in self and the status quo care not that our very existence is dependent on each other. They care not that we share the same geographical space and depend on the same resources for our collective and individual sustenance and development.

This was not the will of the United Nations when they espoused the belief that “All human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms.” This is not the will of the Guyana Constitution. This is not the sign of a growing democracy. These are signs of grave deterioration in the fabric of nation building and pending civil upheaval. The UN declaration provides a reference point for judging the level of progress and aspirations of developing nations. It is often the distinguishing deviation between plural societies with high levels of progressive indicators, peaceful and stable economies and those marred by low levels of social, economic and political indicators of progress such as internal strife and civil wars, economic stagnation, poverty and human misery, high levels of migration, unemployment, state corruption, lack of accountability, disregard for law, and order, with wanton criminality and violence as growing  cultural norms.

In Guyana, we must recommit to the struggle for fundamental human rights, not in a partisan way, but for every citizen of this country. It is only in protecting the rights and freedoms of others that our individual rights become enshrined. It is the only way we can promote national peace, stability and nation-building. Hope and dignity must be restored for our people and justice must underpin our society. To protect our people and ensure that human rights no longer falls victim to supremacist ideologies, racism and dictatorial tendencies. Guyana requires a new system of governance where all can have equal say in the decision making processes of government and where the separation of the various arms of government is no longer a matter of lip service, but a fundamental tenet of nation building and accountability.

It is time for every citizen to be a human rights advocate; to advance and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of fellow Guyanese and to hold government accountable for doing same in keeping with our constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.  Civic society and the institutions of government must ensure that human rights abuses, that have now become a daily dispensation of our government and others enjoying the protection of government, must end. This internal chaos that we are in, is fertile ground created by those who seek to operate outside of the law and those who are not prepared to live and operate in a society where the rights of each individual and group is sacrosanct. When the youth of the nation feel hopelessness and disadvantaged by people, state and government systems geared to deny them fundamental rights, there is no question of the abundance of evidence pointing to Guyana being on the precipice of internal destruction. History has shown that the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized, encouraged by the freedoms they see others enjoying will eventually rise up to take what they feel they are entitled to, if it is not given to them through the right channels, despite their best effort to work, contribute and follow laws.

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