Last Updated on Tuesday, 4 July 2023, 14:34 by Denis Chabrol
Thirty-four persons of Amerindian descent as well as several activists of the women’s rights organisation, Red Thread, on Tuesday demanded broad-based health, legal and financial support for the 16-year old girl who alleged that she was raped by Local Government Minister Nigel Dharamlall.
“Apolitical coordination of support for the child, with Indigenous groups and communities leading that support. Indigenous villages and urban Indigenous communities have got to put aside political differences and stand up for this child,” they said in a joint statement endorsed by residents from Region One (Barima-Waini), Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Region Three (West Demerara-Essequibo Islands), Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and Region Nine (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo) an 11 Red Thread activists.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was up to Tuesday afternoon yet to decide whether she would accede to the request by the complainant that she does not want any further action in the matter. Mr Dharamlall, who has denied all allegations through his lawyer, remains on GY$1 million station bail.
The Amerindians and Red Thread also called for a boycott of all major Amerindian heritage activities, except those organised by districts and villages if there is safeguarding for vulnerable children. “If this can be supported by the Guyanese Indigenous community, a boycott of all regional and national heritage activities like the Day of Sports and Indigenous Pageant, which potentially put Indigenous women and girls at risk for sexual abuse,” according to their statement.
Expressing disappointment, hurt and anger at the apparent mishandling of the investigations into the allegations, they also demanded that the child be allowed to exercise her right to access support persons of her choice, and immediate access to her own lawyer. The activists said the teenager should be given access to funding to receive legal counsel, care, accommodation and other services while she is in Georgetown.
“Mental health support/care for the child and her family, from those adequately trained and who have their best interests at heart. A clear plan on what happens within the months and years ahead for her, and guaranteed support. She cannot be left to suffer for the rest of her life,” the added.
They invited “all persons of conscience” to press for a full and impartial investigation into how the Dharamlall matter was handled, against the backdrop of alleged police intimidation of the child’s family; an alleged attempted bribe made to the family of the complainant; denial of legal counsel for the child; lack of impartial support for the child once she came into the custody of the state; the child being taken to the crime scene and that Mr Dharamlall was on the premises and the back and forth of the case file between the Police and the DPP. “We are fearful that these allegations will not be fully investigated, and that the Indigenous child will be left to bear the trauma of not only the alleged vicious assault on her body, but also that of the brutal handling of this case by Guyana’s criminal justice system,” they said. They want the probe to also focus on accountability from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Regional Democratic Council of Region 2, the police and all other parties involved in this matter.
The Guyana Police Force last week sought to reassure the public that the probe was carried out professionally.
The also added their voices to existing calls for Mr Dharamlall to be removed from his ministerial position and from parliament and an investigation into all other sexual allegations against him and other public officials regardless of political affiliation. Red Thread and the Amerindian residents of the various communities are also asking that Mr Dharamlall be banned from entering any Indigenous community unless the case is fully and impartially investigated.
The activists said since the allegations were made public, they have been appalled by reports of, like many Indigenous women, girls and boys within Guyana, her body was and is vulnerable to racial abuse and sexualising, which we cannot ignore, as it placed her at risk in the first place.
They endorsed the statement issued by the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) that calls on the state to uphold its constitutional obligation to protect women and children; refers to the government’s responsibility under Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that speaks to the role of the government in protecting children from sexual abuse and highlights General Recommendation No. 39 on the rights of Indigenous women and girls from the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.