There are currently nine human rights complaints filed by local organisations against the Guyana Government to international bodies – Government views as the confidence of these local entities in the reporting system rather than a human right violation.
Between 1999 to 2015, only four Petitions were filed against Guyana at the various international agencies such the United Nations’ (UN’s) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an arm of the Organization of American States (OAS). On the other hand, none was filed from 2015 to 2020.
During her ministry’s year-in-review press briefing for 2023 on Wednesday, Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira explained on Wednesday that these nine petitions filed are reflective of the confidence the society in the complaint mechanisms in place.
“From 2020 to date, we’ve had nine petitions submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN CERD by various NGOs (non-government organisations) in Guyana. I take this as a reflection of the confidence of those organisations to feel that they can have a complaints mechanism that they report to and our obligation as a Member State is to respond and to present our case to those bodies,” she posited.
Of the complaints made against the Guyana Government in the past three years, one is stemming from an issue dating back to 2012 while the other eight have more recent origins.
MisrepresentationsWhile she expects more complaints to be filed by local organisations going forward, the minister outlined that many of these petitions have misrepresented the facts in the country.
“From a social conscience point of view that if one makes a complaint on your country, you should at least be factual… We found that of the cases being brought, they are not based on facts. They are a misrepresentation and we have to prove that is not so. So, we can’t just say that an organisation has not factually reported. We have to be able to show that they have not,” she noted.
According to the governance minister, ensuring that the facts are properly presented is the main priority of the Government in responding to these petitions filed.
“But also in terms of making sure that we present our cases as best as we can. It doesn’t mean that we will win but it does relate to the importance that we must respond and respond the best way we can with factual information, with evidence, with videos, with recordings, with photographs – hard data to show that what we are saying is correct,” she posited.
Chinese LandingOne such complaint in which the minister said the facts were misrepresented is the Chinese Landing matter, where the Region One (Barima-Waini) indigenous community filed a petition for human rights violation over mining rights.
This issue stemmed from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) granting a mining permit, sometime in the 1990s, to a miner/company to operate within the boundaries of the village’s titled land. However, the indigenous community had been up in arms over this approval, which they said did not have the consent of the Village Council.
But when the GGMC had taken steps to issue a Cease Work Order (CWO) to the miner/company, the case was taken to the High Court, which had ruled in favour of the miner/company. The High Court decision was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal. However, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) – Guyana’s highest court – reversed this in 2017.
Chinese Landing through lobbying bodies subsequently moved internationally to seek human rights intervention.
Consequently, the IACHR in July 2023 issued Resolution 41/2023, through which it granted precautionary measures in favour of members of the Indigenous Carib Community of Chinese Landing, who it said are currently at “serious, urgent risk of suffering irreparable harm to their human rights”.
According to Minister Teixeira on Wednesday, the Guyana Government has since requested a withdrawal of those precautionary measures but are yet to get a response from the Commission.
“We wrote a letter in December, asking for a response to the issues we raised regarding Chinese Landing because what we did, we asked for a withdrawal of the precautionary measures as they’re not based on fact and it’s a misrepresentation. So, we asked, formally, to the IACHR to withdraw the petition against Guyana… We have not received a response as yet,” Teixeira stated.
Long timeThe IACHR, according to the governance minister, had indicated that these matters take a “long time” especially since the body has over 8000 matters filed from 30 odd countries and is operating with limited staff.
In fact, Teixeira pointed out that in relation to another matter before the IACHR, Government had responded in June 2022 and only received a response from the Commission in December 2023. Guyana was given one month to respond that and this was done.
She went onto say that government is yet to heard back from the IACHR on those complaints that responses were given for since 2021. Similar delays, she added, are being faced with regards to petitions before the UN agencies.
Nevertheless, the governance minister outlined that they have responded to all nine petitions filed against the country. However, she noted that the process to respond to these complaints is a tedious one that is being done with limited staff at her ministry, where there is a core team of five senior members.
On this note, she urged these local organisations to make use of the domestic complaints mechanisms before moving to the international bodies. Among the local bodies available for redress are the various rights commissions, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), and the Service Commissions – Police, Public and Judicial. She also mentioned the bodies that are not part of the constitutional arrangements such as Police Complaints Authority (PCA), which is frequently being used by aggrieved members of the public.
“I would hope that the NGOs here would use more the domestic remedies that are available, that they would use the service commissions, the human rights commissions… to bring issues to those bodies,” she stated.
According to Teixeira, Guyana is one of a few countries in the region with the framework to allow redress locally. In the same breath, however, she underscored the need to look at strengthening these domestic bodies in terms of training and capacity building to be more effectively deal with complaints.
“There are avenues available to Guyanese, which in some cases are not used as much as I think they should be unlike the Police Complaints Authority which people use a lot,” the minister stated.
In addition to the Chinese Landing matter, which was filed by the Amerindian People’s Association (APA), other local bodies that have filed complaints against the Guyana Government are the Guyana Press Association (GPA), the International Decade for People of African Descent-Guyana (IDPADG) and the United Kingdom Forest Producers.