Guyana Table of Contents
Arbitrary detention of civilians, physical abuse of prisoners, and summary executions became standard police behavior during Linden Forbes Burnham's regime (1964-85). During the period, the government routinely refused to conduct public inquiries into killings, even into those in which it was not implicated. In 1973 a University of Guyana lecturer was severely wounded in what many people believed to be an attempted assassination. In 1976 noted PPP member Isahak Basir was severely wounded by police. In 1979 political activist Ohena Koama was shot and killed in Georgetown by police. In October 1979, government minister Vincent Teekah was murdered. In all these cases, no inquest was held. The most infamous murder was the 1980 killing of internationally respected historian and political activist Walter Rodney. The United States Department of State believed the government was implicated in the murder, which occurred when a small radio transmitter in Rodney's possession exploded.
The Guyana Human Rights Association determined that from January 1980 to June 1981, at least twenty-two people were killed by police with no inquests ever held. The police stated that all the victims either had attacked police officers or were killed trying to escape.
Another common government practice was to deny opposition groups permission to demonstrate peaceably. On September 17, 1981, the Working People's Alliance organized a demonstration without government permission. The crowd of fewer than 100 called for higher wages, affirmed Guyana's territorial integrity, and criticized South Africa's apartheid regime. Police intervened in the protest, arrested political leaders Moses Bhagwan and Eusi Kwayana, and beat those demonstrators who would not disperse.
Under the administration of Hugh Desmond Hoyte, who became president in 1985, respect for human rights improved considerably. Although a United States government report stated that in 1991 police abuse of prisoners and electoral manipulation continued, no politically motivated or government-sanctioned extrajudicial killings were reported. No summary execution took place, and there were no reports of politically related disappearances.
Data as of January 1992