Minister Oneidge Walrond responds to IDPAD-G
Reference is made to your article in Sunday Stabroek of June 4, 2023, regarding differences in positions advanced by the Government of Guyana and IDPADA-G to the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.
Firstly, to cut through all of the noise, which unfortunately tends to obscure the real issues of fundamental importance, I reiterate that the Government of Guyana fully supported the work of the Forum and many of its recommendations, which we believe have the potential to contribute to the upliftment of people of African Descent.
These recommendations include calls for extending the International Decade for People of African Descent, the crafting of an actionable declaration on the rights of people of African Descent, the demand for reparatory justice for the genocide and other atrocities associated with chattel slavery of Africans and the slave trade, and the recommendation for the UN to live up to its own rhetoric and to provide support to the Forum comparable to that extended to other Special Procedures.
These and other recommendations supported by the Government of Guyana are critically important to establish a formal framework without which achieving progress for the advancement of People of African Descent would be immeasurably more difficult.
That said, our work at the Forum was regrettably made unnecessarily difficult by having to treat with false assertions made by representatives of IDPADA-G, principally though not exclusively through the interventions of Messrs. Darren Wade and Nigel Hughes.
In speaking to the thematic discussion on transnational migration, Mr. Wade told the Forum, completely unsupported by evidence, that government perpetrates “discriminatory practices towards Haitian migrants whilst favourable treatment is extended to nationals of India, Bangladesh and Nepal, among others”. Mr. Wade further claimed, again without evidence, that Haitians and Africans are excluded from Guyana while “persons from the aforementioned states are welcomed”.
Having, in front of the international community, falsely accused his country of discrimination against Haitians as opposed to Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese, Mr. Wade then went on to single out Guyana in CARICOM as a state which imposes a requirement for visas for Haitian nationals purportedly in violation of our obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Mr. Wade did not disclose to the Forum that not only Guyana but also eleven other signatory states of the Revised Treaty have visa requirements for Haitian nationals in place.
I take this opportunity to remind the public that the decision to reinstate the visa requirement was made as a result of substantial evidence that Haitian nationals were being trafficked through Guyana by organised gangs and that the problem of trafficking in Haitian nationals was publicly recognised in 2021 by both the then Chairman of CARICOM, Rt. Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and the then Secretary-General of the Community, Ambassador Irwin La-Roque.
I further remind that in 2021, the Attorney-General, in speaking to the issue, disclosed that data from the immigration department showed that of the 42,100 Haitian nationals recorded as arriving in Guyana between 2015 and 2017, only 3,913 had been registered as legally departing leaving some 38,187 such nationals who could not be accounted for. Our concerns about trafficking are further justified when considering the existence of cases where Haitian nationals were found abandoned in remote areas of Guyana.
We thus wholly rejected Mr. Wade’s contention that the Guyana government is somehow unique within CARICOM in requiring visas for Haitian nationals and his implicit allegation that our policy is motivated by racism.
For his part, Mr. Hughes claimed to the Forum that the only progress ever made by the state of Guyana in terms of redress for historical injustices against persons of African Descent was a Commission of Inquiry into Land established by then President Granger and complained that no recommendation of the COI was implemented. As far as we are aware, the said Commission of Inquiry neither completed its work nor submitted an official report. We were, however, taken to task for the non-implementation of recommendations that appear to have never been made.
Mr. Hughes also accused the government of taking “no action on the Dutch apology for the benefit of Guyanese”. The facts of the matter are first that the apology issued by the Dutch government to its former colonies makes no commitment whatsoever to any tangible benefit, reparations or otherwise to the descendants of enslaved Africans. Secondly, Guyana was not included in those countries to which the Dutch extended the apology despite being a colony of the Netherlands for over two centuries. Finally, I note that the Guyana Reparations Committee, which receives a government subvention as a consequence of our commitment to the CARICOM Reparations effort, is working on advocating for Guyana to be included in the Dutch apology and for the descendants of enslaved peoples to be consulted in its content.
It is ironic that the Reparations Committee, which is working on trying to secure the very benefits that he has called for, was explicitly disparaged by Mr. Hughes in his statement to the Forum when he said that reparatory justice and equity require more than just “support to the CARICOM Reparations Committee” and “photo opportunities with African Guyanese”. Further, given Mr. Hughes’ representation to the Forum that funding to IDPADA-G was withdrawn “based on the perception that the organisation held an opposing view to the Government”, it is perhaps doubly ironic, that the Guyana Reparations Committee, which receives government financing, is headed by Mr. Eric Phillips, who is not exactly known to hold opinions aligned with those of the government.
Editor, from our experience before the Forum and elsewhere, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the conditions of people of African Descent are of secondary importance to the principal movers behind IDPADA-G and are instead seen as a convenient vehicle for the realisation of thinly veiled political ambitions.
Hon. Oneidge Walrond, M.P
Head of Delegation, United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent