Guyana proud of its achievements in Civil and Political Rights

– calls for more genuine constructive dialogue based on facts

The  United  Nations  Human  Rights  Committee considered Guyana’s third Periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) during the 4097th, 4099th and 4101st meetings held in hybrid format from March 18 to 20, 2024.

The ICCPR is one of the eight core United Nations Human Rights Treaties which Guyana has ratified, out of a total of nine treaties. This is nothing short of a major achievement for a small developing country since many developed countries have not ratified several of the UN Human Rights Treaties, and as such, have not submitted themselves to be scrutinized and held accountable to the standards of those covenants, conventions, and treaties.

The ICCPR, which forms part of the Universal Bill of Rights (a combination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the ICCPR) provides for a range of protections of civil and political rights.

States that have ratified this treaty are bound to protect and preserve basic human rights, such as: the right to life and human dignity; equality before the law; freedom of speech, assembly, and association; religious freedom; freedom from torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention; gender equality; the right to a fair trial; right to family life and family unity; and minority rights – these rights are enshrined in the Guyana Constitution and several statutes. The Covenant requires the State Parties to take administrative, judicial, and legislative measures to protect the rights enshrined in the treaty and to provide effective remedies. As a state party to the ICCPR, Guyana has a legal obligation to progressively undertake measures to implement the provisions to protect the civil and political rights included in the Covenant.

Under Article 40 of the ICCPR, Guyana is required to submit periodic reports to the UN Human Rights Committee on the measures adopted or those in progress to give effect to the rights the Covenant establishes. In other words, the review process is fundamentally a “progress report” on good faith efforts made by State parties to implement the rights and standards enshrined in that covenant.

On August 30, 2021, Guyana submitted its ‘Third Periodic Report’ on the ICCPR, under the simplified reporting procedure, responding to the List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR) it received from the UN Human Rights Committee, in accordance with article 40 of the ICCPR. It should be noted that the LOIPR was officially sent to Guyana on August 31, 2020, only a few weeks after the PPP/C government assumed office following the attempts by the APNU/AFC and their operatives to thwart the will of the Guyanese people in the 2020 General and Regional Elections.

The newly established Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, being the agency with the mandate for human rights and anti-corruption treaty reporting on behalf of the State, promptly began to assess the LOIPR and set up a National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up (NMRF). The Ministry then collected available information, data and statistics, consolidated information and data, prepared numerous draft versions of the report in collaboration with various agencies, and the final version of the third periodic report within the stipulated word limit was submitted to the UNHRC on August 30, 2021, as previously stated.

Guyana submitted the report being fully aware of the standard review process that is invoked upon the submission of any treaty report. That is, the report would be published, shadow reports would be accepted from civil society organisations, and the UN’s Human Rights Committee would eventually review the report and invite Guyana to a “constructive dialogue” to assess the contents of the report and to seek answers to additional queries with the aim of better understanding the situation in Guyana to inform the committee’s concluding observations. Notably, the emphasis is on “constructive dialogue” and not “Shame and Blame” as the UNHRC knows that not one country in the world has fully complied or implemented the ICCPR nor any other human rights treaties – all are at different stages of implementation or compliance. The countries which have ratified the ICCPR commendably subject themselves to review and this has traditionally been viewed as a valuable process in the evolution of human rights in a rapidly developing global landscape. This was emphasized in the two briefings with Guyana by the UNHRC Secretariat staff and the Commonwealth Small States Division in Geneva, prior to the review.

The Human Rights Committee, a treaty-based mechanism of independent experts, is mandated to monitor the implementation of the ICCPR by state parties, and expectations are that the Committee considers and examines State party’s report using the public constructive dialogue methodology.

Guyana’s delegation was officially identified to the UNHRC and notably was comprised primarily of members of the National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up (NMRFU), a mechanism advocated by the UNHRC for countries to adopt. This too was part of the Ministry’s continuous efforts to expose young professionals to the human rights treaty reporting process to strengthen institutional capacity across various ministries and agencies within Guyana’s human rights architecture.

During the sessions from March 18 to 20, 2024, the Guyana delegation engaged with members of the Human Rights Committee on the list of issues as well as other information they sought based on what they called “credible sources” including information received from CSOs’ “shadow reports”.

It should be noted that for decades, Guyana has engaged in such constructive dialogues with various UN Treaty bodies and their review processes, and there has been a commendable track record of healthy and respectful engagement with these bodies under the numerous treaties which Guyana has ratified. This methodology is not novel to Guyana since the State has been reviewed by various such Committees on several other occasions under the Universal Periodic Review and numerous Conventions including:

•   Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

•   Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)

•   Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

•   International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

•    International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)

•   International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW)

•   Convention Against Corruption and

•   Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

However, the recent inimical and unbending expectations adopted by the 2024 Human Rights Committee are quite worrying as Guyana has never been subjected in previous reviews to such an adversarial engagement with an apparent objective to “shame and blame” the State.

The State brought to the attention of the Committee, and members of the Committee also acknowledged and concurred, that the short time frame did not permit the State to comprehensively respond to questions which required very detailed responses and, in some cases, very detailed statistics. Surprisingly, however, members of the Committee went on to further upbraid the Hon. Minister Gail Teixeira, head of delegation, for not providing more detailed responses or not addressing the abundance of questions posed to the State.

Subsequent reviews of the questions revealed that there were over 140 questions asked, each requiring extremely detailed information and statistics. This task is undoubtedly impossible for any State party which is only provided with 40 minutes per day to respond to the questions each day. One Committee member, for example, asked 17 questions at one time.  Thus, the time allocated for this large amount of questions was simply not enough for any State party to provide comprehensive responses.

Many of the questions were beyond the mandate of the Committee, particularly those where the State party had been reviewed by the Inter-American Convention against Corruption and its report adopted on March 14, 2024, or was pending review by another UN treaty body such as the UN Convention against Corruption.

Guyana is of the firm belief that State parties can only engage in constructive dialogue when a system or methodology is fair and impartial and where expectations are practicable. Guyana also indicated in writing to the UNHRC that whilst there is an opportunity for the State party to provide additional information to the committee within 48 hours after the completion of the hybrid review, this information would never be seen by persons who were tuned into the live webcast. The State party firmly believes that this is unfair as it does not allow the viewers to learn of the State party’s comprehensive responses to questions which may have gone unanswered due to the limited and strict time allocations.

It should be remembered that in the preamble to the review process on March 18, 2024, the Chairperson made it clear that the Committee would use credible sources such as UN documents, academia, and civil society.

However, the State party had cause to express concern about the credibility and validity of information including numerous pieces of fractured (or at best anecdotal) information that the Committee sought responses on, which were only then being brought to the attention of the State. However, this was quickly dismissed by a committee member who indicated that, in her opinion, all information had been thoroughly cross-checked, and all information received are available on the OHCHR website.

This was proven to be false since matters pertaining to the failure to investigate allegations of corruption by the Vice President, allegations of corruption by the judiciary, cybercrime allegations against Rickford Burke and allegations of children being held in adult prisons, for example, were never mentioned in any of the nine civil society “shadow reports” available online. Further, one committee member alleged with conviction that 90% of the local media was owned and operated by the state or were supporters of the government. This allegation is the furthest from fact and is a manifestation of the blatant mistruths which the committee unapologetically entertained. Any Guyanese would be able to validate that this information is blatantly untrue and baseless.

There were numerous sources of credible and verifiable information which were ignored by the Committee, including Guyana’s many submissions over the last three years in response to UN special rapporteurs and independent experts’ calls for information, the annual UNDP Human Development Index, reports from other UN agencies including UNFPA, UNICEF, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the IMF Article 4 statements on Guyana, World Bank and IDB reports which refer to Guyana, Guyana’s reports on its anti-corruption measures in its 2nd self-assessment to the UN Convention Against Corruption and Guyana’s report to the IACAC MESICIC in 2023 and 2024, its reports to the EITI as well as Guyana’s 2023 Voluntary National Review Report to UN, all of which are publicly posted on websites.

It should be emphasized that members of the Committee serve in their personal capacity, and not as representatives of their governments, which is intended to allow for the proceedings of the Committee to be politically impartial. However, Guyana is perplexed that a member of the Committee would seek answers to matters that were currently related to a citizen of that country which the Committee member is a national.

Even after over 100 pages of additional information with data was provided within the 48 hours (March 22nd) as required, the Committee went ahead with preparing the Advance Unedited Version (AUV) of its Concluding Observations, in what appeared to be a complete dismissal of the additional information provided by the State. According to the methodology of the Human Rights Committee, Guyana was given 24 hours (March 27th) to comment and identify only factual errors in this draft document.  Although the State provided detailed information regarding factual errors within the stipulated time, it was disheartening to see these numerous errors, which were already addressed during the review process, and each identified again in the March 27, 2024, document, were again included and published in the Concluding Observations. One can only conclude that the Committee refused to consider the factual errors identified by the State.

Guyana is cognizant that no country’s record of protecting and promoting civil and political rights is perfect nor free from criticism.

In the same round of reviews by the Committee, vastly more developed countries like the United Kingdom also received recommendations for strengthening its commitments under the ICCPR, and in the previous round of reviews, countries like the United States of America were also reviewed. Interestingly, the Committee never made comments in its Concluding Observations to the USA about the reversal of the Roe V. Wade judgment which struck down crucial jurisprudence and directly affected the right to choose for women. In contrast, Guyana was bombarded with false accusations of “clandestine abortions”, for which the committee nor its informants could provide any source or evidence.

Further, with regards to the death penalty, Guyana is proud to report that no individual has been executed by the State since 1997 in keeping with an informal moratorium on the death penalty, which was repeatedly stated during the review. Whereas other developed countries which were reviewed are actively implementing the death penalty using some of the most gruesome means of execution in the modern world, and yet they only received “a slap on the wrist” from the Committee.

These are just a few examples of the grave inequalities which continue to affect small developing countries like Guyana at the global level. Guyana, as one of the poorest in the western hemisphere in 1992, has worked to overcome the enormous obstacles that have encumbered our potential for development, from slavery and indentureship, colonialism, political and civil interference, restoration of democracy, attempts to undermine democracy, and new and modern threats to our democracy and sovereignty.

Guyana is proud and our people should be applauded for the significant legislative and policy achievements we have made as a small developing country, particularly when one remembers the struggles to restore democracy and the traumatic and difficult challenges to build a democratic nation over the last 30 years. This was explicitly outlined during the presentation made by the head of delegation throughout the review process.

The State party did identify the challenges that we continue to experience as a small country with a small population and extremely diverse geography and terrain, but also highlighted some of the mechanisms implemented and being sought to overcome these challenges. Many of these were Guyana “home grown” and provide unique models globally such as the LCDS 2009 and LCDS 2030, the Guyana Constitution, the Amerindian Act etc., Regrettably, these were completely overlooked by the Committee.

It is understood that the review process is intended to streamline the reporting procedure and improve the quality of the dialogue with States parties. However, it is unfortunate that the Human Rights Committee review processes which are customarily conducted in a constructive manner was for the first time steered into unconstructive engagement. This was unfortunately quite distinct from the other processes which Guyana has subjected itself to, including the most recent 6th  cycle review of Guyana’s anti-corruption framework by the OAS MESISIC, and its review by the Caribbean Financial Action task Force (CFATF/FATF) which included robust dialogue and extensive reviews including on-site reviews in which government agencies, constitutional bodies, and civil society organizations participated.

The State is committed to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and will continue to invest resources to ensure the rights of all Guyanese are upheld under Guyana’s Constitution and the Covenant.   This is even more evident as the government moves forward with the constitutional reform process in which the Guyanese people through expansive public participation and consultation will decide on their concerns and any of those raised by the Committee. As a sovereign state, the Guyanese people will decide.

We are immensely proud of the progress that Guyana in last three years has made and the trademarks that we continue to make globally, and the Government will continue to spare no efforts in ensuring that development for the betterment of the lives of all Guyanese people is paramount. The Government will continue to make critical investments and advancements to enhance the constitutional and legislative framework of Guyana, strengthen the institutional capacity of constitutional and statutory bodies, improve access to education, healthcare and social services, advance the rights of indigenous peoples and all vulnerable groups, further diversify the economy, capitalize on its resources, address discrimination wherever it appears frontally, ensure that the rights of the most vulnerable groups are protected, and promote equal rights, equal opportunities and equitable access to goods and services in a transparent, accountable, inclusive and participatory model. This will be implemented despite those miniscule elements who appear to have a distaste in seeing their own small developing country and other small developing countries, and their citizens, reach their true potential.

In doing so, Guyana recognizes that it is part of a global landscape, and that it has responsibilities to play a meaningful role in engagements with its neighbours, its region, and its international partners, including though the mechanisms of the covenants, conventions, and treaties which the State has ratified. As such, the Government of Guyana is committed to continue being transparent in its reporting process and avails itself to engage in dialogues with both regional and international institutional systems that genuinely seek to constructively examine and even learn from the experiences of an emerging global leader in numerous crucial sectors. Our mantra remains equal rights, equal opportunities and equitable access to goods and services for all our people to ensure that “no one is left behind”.