More fear than hatred in Guyana’s racial polarisation
Will recommend support for political dialogue
By Miranda La Rose
July 22, 2003
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These were the observations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimina-tion and Xenophobia, Doudou Diene, here on a visit to gauge the extent of racial tension.
In a briefing yesterday at the United Nations Development Programme Office on Brickdam, Diene said he would now recommend to the United Nations that support be given to the process which Guyana had begun via the May 6 communique between the President and the Leader of the Opposition.
He said he had met with several state, non-governmental, women, youth and ethnic organisations over the last week. He also held discussions in Buxton and Annandale on the East Coast Demerara and in Lethem in the Rupununi.
Diene, who met with President Bharrat Jagdeo and various ministers yesterday morning for a debriefing session, said that throughout the political spectrum, both from the government and the opposition, he sensed a `political fatigue’ and from within the society a sense of emotional insecurity and fear.
He said political leaders had recognised that the polarisation could not be allowed to continue as it was detrimental not only to the image of Guyana, its internal peace and the well-being of the people, but it was also very detrimental to the country’s economic development.
He noted that the country’s political leaders had taken steps through constitutional means in creating an ethnic relations commission and committees to deal with the issue.
In his contacts with the political leaders, which included Jagdeo and PNCR Leader, Robert Corbin, Diene stressed it was the responsibility of political leaders in the community to deal with the issue of ethnic and racial polarisation. He emphasised that the solution must be defined by the Guyanese authorities and the people.
Throughout his meeting with members of the civil society, Diene said he found very deep human and emotional insecurity because of polarisation.
In spite of this polarisation he said he had not observed overt hatred but rather a fear among the communities. If hate was there, he said that it was not “so deeply rooted” that people thought there was no solution and that the problem would last forever. “No I did not feel that. I felt fear and that is translated into the emotional and human insecurity.”
Yet, in spite of the fear he said Guyanese from all ethnic communities and political groupings felt a strong sense of belonging. They all expressed the multi-ethnic dimension of the country.
He said he found it encouraging that there was a willingness to talk, “to tell their deeper feelings and express their views openly.” That is “a fundamental positive factor for any democratic society.”
He will also recommend that in dealing with the issue of racial and ethnic polarisation, that the local effort be based on the programme of action of the World Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenopobia and all forms of discrimination held in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
Diene is also recommending that the programme of action be disseminated widely, not only among political parties in Guyana, but to the general populace and be used as a guiding principle for the country’s Ethnic Relations Commission.
The programme of action coming out of Durban is a declaration of principles which contains measures - legal, economic, political, social - which were carefully negotiated and drafted to help all countries touched by racism, all forms of discrimination and xenophobia.
He said Guyana’s problems were, like many other multicultural societies, rooted in the system of slavery and colonialisation which played on the ethnic and racial factors.
Based on his studies, he noted that Guyana had inherited a divided multicultural society but the challenge was now to transform that to a peaceful and democratic one. He said rebuilding the society required long-term policies which touched on education, communication and everything that contributed to the value system.