Close this window to return to the main menu

Previous Chapter     Next Chapter

Dr. Cheddi Jagan, when he was Premier, raised from time to time with the British authorities the problem of the racial imbalance in the police and security forces in Guyana. On those occasions he asked for the setting up of a commission of inquiry to examine this situation and to make recommendations to allow for more Indians to be accepted into the Police Force. The British Government apparently agreed that the racial imbalance in the police and security forces acted to increase racial insecurity in the country. When the PNC-UF coalition came to power, the Colonial Office offered in January 1965 to appoint a commission of inquiry to examine this matter, but Burnham, the new Premier, opposed it on the ground that such a commission would undermine the self-governing status of British Guiana

When the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Anthony Greenwood, visited Guyana in February 1964, Dr. Jagan again raised with him the question of the racial imbalances in the security forces and insisted that a commission should be set up to examine the matter and propose solutions to this problem. Burnham, on the other hand, stated that he did not recognise racial imbalances in the police and security forces and he opposed the setting up of a committee by the British Government to address this issue. He later submitted a memorandum to the Greenwood emphatically denying the existence of any such racial imbalance in those bodies.

Nevertheless, the British government continued to consult with Burnham on this matter and he finally agreed to an investigation by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Subsequently, on 6 April 1965 he invited that organisation to send a team to Guyana to investigate the racial imbalances, and on 17 June 1965, the ICJ indicated its willingness to send a three-member commission to carry out this task. Shortly after, Sean MacBride, Secretary-General of the ICJ, visited Guyana and discussed with Burnham and members of the Government the plans for the setting up of the commission of inquiry. He also met with Dr. Jagan (the Leader of the Opposition), the Chief Justice, the President of the Bar Association and representatives of the Trades Union Council.

The PNC-UF Government immediately set out, without consulting with the opposition, the commission's terms of reference. These did not concentrate on the imbalances in the police and security forces but were expanded to include the civil service, government agencies, the allocation of lands on land development schemes, and other areas of Government responsibility. The commission was instructed "to consider whether existing procedures relating to the selection, appointment, promotion, dismissal and conditions of service of personnel are such as to encourage or lead to racial discrimination in the areas concerned; to make such recommendations as are considered necessary to correct any such procedures with a view to the elimination of imbalance based on racial discrimination having regard to the need to maintain the efficiency of the services concerned and the public interest."

The PPP felt that these terms of references were very unsatisfactory since they failed to deal with the crucial issue of correcting the existing imbalances, and they did not even give recognition that there were imbalances in the police and security forces. What was to be examined was only discrimination which could lead to imbalances in the future and which could affect the efficiency of the public service. The PPP also felt that the ICJ commission should have concentrated on the issue of racial imbalance in the police and security forces since this was of greater urgency. By making the commission examine other areas, such as the public service and the distribution of land on land development schemes, the commission's attention was diverted away from the real issue that required urgent attention.

The PPP protested these terms of references to the British government, but to no avail. The Party, therefore, decided to boycott the meetings of the ICJ commission.

The commission was headed by Justice Seamus Henchy of Ireland, and its other members were law professors Felix Ermacora of Austria and Peter Papadatos of Greece.

The Registrar to the commission, David Sagar, an Australian solicitor on the ICJ staff, arrived in Guyana on 15 July 1965 and immediately began making the administrative arrangements for the holding of the inquiry. During July 1965, the ICJ, by way of newspaper advertisements, invited interested individuals or groups to submit written memoranda setting forth their views on the matters to be investigated by the commission. The Registrar to the commission, by the end of July, received written submissions from 65 individuals and 17 organisations.

The members of the commission arrived on 4 August and began the public sessions at Bishop's High School in Georgetown on the following day. The commission intended at first to hold only public sessions, but because some individuals stated that they wished to give evidence in private, a few private sessions were held to accommodate them. Public and private sessions were held on 12 days and the final public session took place on 20 August 1965.

During the public and private sessions, the commission received evidence or submissions from the Attorney-General, numerous public organisations, holders of public offices, private organisations and groups, and many individuals. Many of these groups and individuals gave evidence in support of memoranda which they had previously submitted, while others gave evidence without having submitted a memorandum.

On leaving Guyana, the members of the commission returned to the headquarters of the ICJ in Geneva, Switzerland, where they worked on the preparation of their report. This was finally submitted to the Guyana Government in October 1965.

The commission expressed its regrets over the non-participation of the PPP in the inquiry. Despite this, it stated it had obtained the views of the Party from its newspaper the Mirror which carried articles setting forth the party's views on topics the commission was investigating.

It found that in the combined security forces, civil service and government agencies, primary schools and development schemes, African were in the majority with 51 percent, while Indians accounted for 40 percent.

With regard to the police force, the commission refrained from making any judgement as to whether or not there was discrimination in recruitment. But it recommended that for every year for a period of five years, 75 percent of new recruits should be Indian and 25 percent from other races. A proposal for a crash programme to recruit large numbers of Indians within one year was rejected by the commission.

In dealing with the Volunteer Force, it noted that companies of the Volunteer Force were established in predominantly African areas and agreed that this amounted to racial discrimination. It, therefore, recommended that companies should be set up in areas where there would be large numbers of Indian volunteers.

The PNC, when it formed the opposition, had always accused the PPP government of discriminating against Africans in the field of agriculture. It was for this reason that the PNC-UF government fashioned the commission's terms of reference to enable it to investigate land allocations on land development schemes during the period of the PPP government. However, the commission found that despite the presence of many more Indians than Africans on land development schemes, no discriminatory practices were employed in the selection process.

Burnham expressed his disagreements with some of the findings of the commission, in particular with the issue of land allocations, but he finally agreed to accept the recommendations. However, these recommendations, particularly those related to the police and the Volunteer Force, were never implemented by the Government.