Statement by H.E. Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, Permanent Representative of the Guyana to the Organization of American States, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at a Hearing of a General Nature, Washington DC, October 12, 2000.
Distinguished Members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Members of the Audience.
Shortly after attaining independence in 1966, the Government of Guyana signed and ratified several international legal instruments governing human rights, most of which had been adopted by the United Nations. Those instruments encompassed many rights which, before World War II, had been unregulated and grossly violated. The International Bill of Rights included two major International Covenants governing civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights among others which were perceived to be the major categories of rights that the human person was entitled to. Today, there are many more in keeping with the evolution of the principle of respect for the fundamental rights of a person, including those of the child.
Following an amendment to the Charter of the Organization of American States which allowed States with border controversies to become Members of the Organization, Guyana joined its hemispheric neighbors in that August body on January 8, 1991. By doing so, Guyana pledged, in extenso, to observe and uphold the integral principles of the Organization. Those proclaiming the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction as to race, nationality, creed or sex were no exception.
The question Mr. Chairman is, how does a Government comply with its international legal obligations while at the same time honoring its Constitutional and other legal provisions and ensuring that its citizens are guaranteed the highest level of attainment of their basic human rights.
A more pertinent question however, is how does a Government which assumed Office in 1992, account for the human rights record of its country and the implementation of its international obligations in connection therewith from a previous twenty eight years of rule by another Government? This is the question which must be borne in mind when examining any human rights issue in and on Guyana.
This is particularly relevant with respect to institutionalized entities in the country. There have been several allegations of violations of human rights which have been taken up by local human rights bodies and relatives and friends of persons who have claimed violations of their rights. It would appear, therefore, that the focus on human rights in Guyana is now largely on the alleged violation of the civil rights of citizens.
However, the fact that someone can petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights would seem to be the very embodiment of what the Government of Guyana is trying to do in its attempt to enshrine the principles of democracy and respect for the basic rights for all irrespective of color, race, creed or sex. It is a testimony to its commitment to keeping in good faith, its oath of Office and its pledge to promote a society with democratic values and respect for the rule of law.
In this regard Mr. Chairman, I wish to address the subject of the Inter-American Legal System governing human rights. As noted previously, Guyana is a State Party to many of the universal human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Convention on the Rights of the Child; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, to name just a few. Within the OAS system, it has ratified the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belem do Para).
By participating in those instruments, the Government undertook to also report on the implementation of their provisions in Guyana. Mr. Chairman, for more than twenty years, Guyana's reporting was negligible. Upon assumption of Office in 1992, my Government undertook the monumental task of reporting on Guyana's human rights record which had been accumulated by a previous Government since 1966 to the satisfaction of the various supervisory bodies which consider such reports. It has faced these bodies to explain and defend the state of human rights in Guyana and attempted to follow the recommendations made.
This task is yet to be completed. It is largely within this context that Guyana has to date neither signed nor ratified the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. This fact notwithstanding, Guyana has participated as a Member of the international community and as a State Party to international legal instruments in good faith. It has undertaken several initiatives to achieve its objectives including constitutional refocus and the establishment of an Ethnic Relations Commission. The former, which will most likely be in the form of a new (or revised) Constitution will contain several amendments to the articles dealing with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. Those amendments will address, inter alia,:
-- the time limit for an arrested person to be brought before a court;
-- the non-compulsory acquisition of property unless there is prompt and adequate provision for compensation; and
-- the extension of provisions in relation to discrimination to include marital status, age, disability, gender, languages, sexual orientation; birth; social class; pregnancy; religion; conscience; belief or culture.
More importantly, an amended Constitution will provide for the incorporation of rights as enshrined in international treaties to which Guyana is a State Party which "shall be respected and upheld by the executive, legislature, judiciary and all organs of Government". The Courts will also be required to take into consideration the provisions of international law which govern human rights when hearing matters in relation to the fundamental rights of citizens as embodied in the current Constitution.
It has also been noted that there has been a decrease in the number of extra-judicial killings and fewer politically motivated disappearances. The right to a public trial is practised although there have been delays due largely due to an insufficiency of human resources. Freedom of speech has flourished with an approximate number of seventeen television stations servicing a population of little over seven hundred and fifty thousand. The right to assemble has been used by many political forces to promote their agenda without hindrance.
The foregoing are only some of the actions taken to date to encourage and guarantee the fundamental human rights of every citizen of Guyana. The Government will continue to work for their full implementation and stands prepared to respond to matters that may be raised in this regard.