Committee against Torture
13 November 2006
The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the initial report of Guyana on the efforts of that country to give effect to the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Gail Teixeira, Presidential Adviser on Governance and a Member of Parliament in Guyana, noted that between 1965 and 1992 there was a period of rigged elections under a dictatorship during which human rights were violated and where the country’s socio-economic situation plummeted from being ranked as among the first in the Caribbean region to second to last in Latin America and the Caribbean. The struggle to restore the right to free and fair elections and to restore democracy was won in October 1992 with the first free and fair elections.
As an emerging democracy in 1992 attempts were made to commence constitutional reforms, which, among other things, removed what had been known as “imperial powers” of the President. The new measures also established a Human Rights Commission, a Women and Gender Equality Commission, an Indigenous People’s Commission and the Rights of the Children Commission, she noted.
Serving as Rapporteur for the report of Guyana, Committee Expert Andreas Mavromatis said, with regard to the discipline of forces, while there were 71 recommendations listed in a report to that effect, not one of them dealt with human rights. He asked for information on the progress made in terms of the report’s findings. On the Presidential Commission of Inquiry examining the Minister of Interior’s alleged involvement in cases leading to the extraditional execution of persons, he asked what measures had been taken in that regard and about licensing and firearms to avoid similar situations in the future in general.
Fernando Marino Menendez, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Guyana, and other Committee Experts, asked for further clarification on the relation between the Convention on Torture and Guyana’s domestic law given certain apparent discrepancies presented in the report and asked if it could be applied directly by the courts in Guyana. On the issue of police brutality, he noted that in 2005 there was a report listing 50 such complaints and reports of dozens of deaths where police were held responsible. He asked for additional information in that regard.
Also during the course of this morning’s meeting, Committee Expert Guibril Camara reported briefly on a meeting he attended in June this year of the Working Group on Reservations in Geneva in his capacity as representative of the Committee against Torture at that meeting. He noted that the Working Group had come into being with the mandate to harmonize guidelines and various practices of the human rights treaty bodies on the issue of reservations. In a short discussion, members posed questions pertaining to, among other things, the admissibility of reservations, and the status of reservations put to treaty bodies in terms of the Vienna Convention on Reservations.
The delegation will return to the Committee at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 14 November, to provide its responses to the questions raised today.
Guyana is among the 142 States parties to the Convention and as such it must present periodic reports to the Committee on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention.
The Committee will issue its final observations and recommendations on the report of Guyana when it concludes its session on 24 November.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will hear the answers of the Russian Federation to the questions posed by Experts on Friday, 10 November.
Report of Guyana
The initial report of Guyana (CAT/C/GUY/1), notes that the State party signed the Convention on Torture in January 1998. Despite its reporting obligations the State was unable to submit previous reports due to socio-economic constraints on the Government although the current report consolidated all the reports due by it. The judicial system of Guyana is founded upon the British common law and practice.
According to the laws of Guyana, no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment, the report states. Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this to the extent that the law in question authorizes the infliction of any punishment or the administration of any treatment that was lawful in Guyana.
The report notes that Guyana, in spite of critical problems of financial and human resources, has, since ratifying the Convention on Torture, progressed in complying with its standards. Much has been achieved but the Government is nevertheless aware of that many challenges which still exist. The present report has provided information on legislative and administrative mechanisms, which have been formulated to aid compliance and implementation.
Presentation of Report
GAIL TEIXEIRA, Presidential Adviser on Governance and Member of Parliament in Guyana, while noting that the report was long overdue, said it was compiled by the Permanent Inter Agency Standing Committee for Human Rights of the State comprised of several Government institutions which was responsible for overseeing all matters pertaining to international instruments in force in Guyana.
Between 1965 and 1992 there was a period of rigged elections under a dictatorship during which human rights were violated and where the country’s socio-economic situation plummeted from being ranked as among the first in the Caribbean region to second to last in Latin America and the Caribbean during this period. The struggle to restore the right to free and fair elections and to restore democracy was won in October 1992 with the first free and fair elections. The last 14 years were very difficult due to the near bankrupt state of the economy in 1992 where 67 per cent of the people lived below the poverty line. Now, the country was ranked at 107 in the United Nations Development Programme Human Development report.
As an emerging democracy in 1992 attempts were made to commence constitutional reforms, which, among other things, removed what had been known as “imperial powers” of the President. The new measures also established a Human Rights Commission, a Women and Gender Equality Commission, an Indigenous People’s Commission and the Rights of the Children Commission. Other Constitutional reforms had given the Parliament greater powers to manage the legislative and policy agenda of the State. Most significant had been the enshrining of freedom and fundamental rights in the Constitution.
Guyana’s Governments between 1992 and 2006 could categorically state that it had never condoned, encouraged, perpetuated and permitted torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, she said. The upsurge in crime and violence from 2002 to 2006 thrust Guyana overnight into a crime wave that was unprecedented. Guyana had taken a number of substantial measures to strengthen human rights and reduce crime and violence. Among other things, the Government established the Presidential Commission of Enquiry into the Discipline of Forces 2003-2004, and the Citizen Security Project.
Ms. Teixeira said other significant measures taken under the new Government were the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act of 1996 allowing for enhanced female victim protection, a new Defence Act calling for more accountability for members of the armed services in criminal acts, both domestically and overseas, a new Immigration Law improving remedies and procedures by which non-nationals could remain in Guyana, and improved human rights training for members of the police, army and persons in the magistracy.
Questions Raised by Committee Experts
ANDREAS MAVROMATIS, the Committee Chairperson serving as Rapporteur for the report of Guyana, said, although the report was very well constructed, much of it could have been incorporated into a core document. It was regretted that no information had come from national human rights institutions, although information had been gathered from non-governmental organizations.
With concern to the report on the discipline of forces, the Rapporteur said, while there were 71 recommendations listed in that report, not one of them dealt with human rights. He asked for information on the progress made in terms of the report’s findings.
On the Presidential Commission of Inquiry examining the Minister of Interior’s alleged involvement in cases leading to the extraditional execution of persons, the Rapporteur asked what measures had been taken in that regards and about licensing and firearms to avoid similar situations in the future in general.
Turning to sexual violence, the Rapporteur noted that there were low conviction rates in Guyana in such cases which led to a culture of impunity. He asked if these low conviction rates were a result of the actions of the judicial process or as a result of investigative practices. He also asked for the difference between statutory rape and rape as cited in the report.
The Rapporteur also asked for additional information on the status of judges and their security of tenure, more details about the various commissions established since the Constitutional reform was enacted, and about providing safe haven for victims of torture.
In general he asked for supplementary information on the new Constitutional measures carried out.
The Rapporteur asked what the position of human rights international instruments were in the hierarchy of the domestic laws in Guyana, in particular the Convention on Torture.
Mr. Mavromatis asked for clarification on the State party’s definition of torture as per its Constitution. Other information was sought on the procedures for applying for asylum seekers and cases of extradition.
FERNANDO MARINO MENENDEZ, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Guyana, asked for further clarification on the relation between the Convention on Torture and Guyana’s domestic law given certain apparent discrepancies presented in the report and asked if it could be applied directly by the courts in Guyana.
More information was sought on the human rights training courses afforded by the State for various government bodies including police and judicial officials and it was asked whether they included medical training.
With regard to visiting committees to prisons, the Co-Rapporteur asked what its modus operandi was and asked whether these committees were able to visit preliminary detention centres.
As to investigations into alleged police misconduct, he asked whether it was the responsibility of the police force to conduct these investigations of their own, or whether it was an outside body.
The Co-Rapporteur raised a number of other questions pertaining to, among other things, the protection of witnesses in cases of torture, military justice, sexual violence, compensation to victims of torture, and the use of disproportionate force by the police. On the issue of police brutality, he noted that in 2005 there was a report listing 50 such complaints and reports of dozens of deaths where police were held responsible. He asked or additional information in that regard.
Mr. Marino Mendez also asked for more information from the delegation on the status of capital punishment in Guyana, to what extent the practice of the death penalty was practised in the country and whether it was looked upon as an act of torture per the Convention.
Other Committee Experts asked questions related to the efficiency of measures taken to combat impunity, cases of whipping and flogging of prisoners, the application of a state of emergency, the hiring of judges, pretrial detention, unlawful arrests and rates of acquittal and non-acquittal, and overall legal measures to combat torture.
While noting that the legal age by which a person could be held accountable for a crime was ten, an Expert asked for clarification on this standard and for more information on juvenile offenders and juvenile justice.
Another member of the Committee asked for information related to discrimination and violence based on racial grounds. And, in that regard, he asked for information about the ethnic composition of the police force.
Several Committee Experts inquired about the status of the investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings, amounting to, according to non-governmental organization sources, 12 killings as at the end of September 2006.
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For use of the information media; not an official record