December 13, 2003
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But it is perhaps still a good time to reflect on the state of human rights in Guyana and in the world at large, particularly in these times of heightened tension and an escalation of conflicts in several parts of the world, especially in the Middle East.
There can be no doubt that the events of September 11 have created a new global dynamic in the battle to preserve world peace and security. The tragedy in all of this is the continuing and sustained attacks on civilian targets in a number of countries, which have taken positions one way or the other in the war against terrorism. Scores of lives have been lost, including those of women and children whose only "crime" was to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The antidote to acts of terrorism cannot be found in more "terrorism." Such actions can only lead to an intensification of violent attacks and unnecessary deaths, as events over the past week have so tellingly demonstrated. What is needed is a coalition of reason aimed at developing trust and understanding among the peoples of the world.
World peace and respect for human rights cannot be achieved when there are high levels of intolerance and disrespect of each other's culture. The tendency to view one's culture as being "superior," referred to as ethnocentrism, lies at the root of many conflicts. Imposing one's culture under the guise of "liberation" and "modernization" has proven counterproductive and can have the opposite effect of what was intended if the lessons of world history, both present and past, are anything to go by.
This year's observance of Human Rights Day coincided with quite a number of important anniversaries such as the 55th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 10th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights.
But, as the acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Bertrand Ramcharran, pointed out, gross violations of human rights across the world still remain a source of concern despite the commitments of word leaders to bring an end to such abuses.
Here in Guyana, we have come a long way since the dark days of the 1970's and the 1980's when Guyanese were denied their most basic rights, such as the right to elect a government of their choice. The rupture of the democratic processes had left deep scars in the body politic. Institutionalized fear had gripped the land, thanks to nearly three decade of dictatorial rule.
All of this, however, dissipated in October of 1992, when democracy was finally restored to the country.
Today, a new wind is blowing across the country. Gone are the days when people were afraid to speak freely for fear of "Big Brother" watching over them.
There is a saying that, "the greatest of all freedom is the freedom of choice." This freedom to choose our elected leaders in free and fair elections is something we must defend with all our might.