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Statement to the media by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to Guyana, 2-6 October 2017


Georgetown, 6 October 2017

  1. The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent thanks the Government of Guyana for its invitation to visit the country from 2 to 6 October 2017, and for its cooperation. We thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their facilitation of the visit. We also thank the United Nations Country Team in Guyana for its support.
  2. The views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary nature and our final findings and recommendations will be presented in our mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2018.
  3. During the visit, the Working Group assessed the human rights situation of people of African descent living in Guyana, and gathered information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance they face. The Working Group studied the official measures taken and mechanisms to prevent systemic racial discrimination and to protect victims of racism, as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination.
  4. As part of its fact-finding mission, the Working Group visited Georgetown, Linden and Buxton. It met with the Prime Minister and a number of ministers and senior officials of various ministries, and Members of Parliament, including representatives of the Opposition. It also met with the Ombudsman, representatives of national institutions, and civil society. In Linden, the Working Group met with the Mayor and Councillors as well as the Chairperson of the Regional Democratic Council. It also visited the Lusignan Prison.
  5. We thank the civil society organizations, human rights defenders, lawyers, academics and individuals we met during the visit, who are working to promote and protect the rights of Afro-Guyanese, creating initiatives and proposing strategies to address structural racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance.
  6. Guyana is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-linguistic and multi-religious country. The people of Guyana share a common history of enslavement, indentureship and colonialism, and have endeavoured to build social cohesion out of a fragmented past. Nevertheless, the Working Group found that ethnic divisions are generally reflected in political parties, as well as in the public and private sectors, and that ethnic polarization becomes particularly visible in the run up to elections.
  7. The protection of human rights and the prohibition of racial discrimination is enshrined in the Constitution. The Racial Hostility Act and the Prevention of Discrimination Act are also important laws prohibiting racial discrimination in different spheres of life.
  8. The revised 2003 Constitution provided for the appointment of the following national institutions—Ethnic Relations, Women and Gender Equality, Rights of the Child, Indigenous Peoples, and Human Rights. The Working Group notes with regret that the Human Rights Commission and the Ethnic Relations Commission remain without Commissioners. The Working Group was informed that this delay was primarily due to the lack of political consensus on the appointments. 
  9. The Working Group welcomes the efforts of the Government’s Five Bs Initiative, aimed at providing boats, buses, bicycles, breakfast and books to school children, for easier access to school, and other basic school needs for students across the country. The Working Group also notes the Guyana Green State Development Strategy which takes into account, among other issues, human rights, multi-ethnicity, gender equality, non-discrimination and protection of vulnerable and marginalized population groups as principles for social cohesion and inclusion. It is also in alignment with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
  10. The Working Group is aware of the importance of land as historically the first basis for economic production. The Working Group notes the effort by the Government through a Commission of Enquiry to resolve ownership of lands acquired by Afro- Guyanese among others.
  11. The Working Group welcomes the formation of the Guyana Reparations Committee, and the Government’s commitment to funding it. The Working Group welcomes the civil society led-initiative to coordinate the programs, plans and events for the International Decade for people of African descent in Guyana. We also welcome the call by the Government for submissions of funding proposals to carry out activities related to the International Decade.
  12. Despite the positive measures referred to above, the Working Group is concerned about the human rights situation of people of African descent in the country. The Working Group found that people of African descent in Guyana continue to experience racism and racial discrimination.
  13. The Working Group noted the significant lack of analysed data required to inform policies. The 2012 National Population and Housing Census has resulted in a considerable amount of data, which regrettably, has neither been disaggregated nor analysed. The data should be used to monitor the situation of people of African descent, assess progress made, increase their visibility and identify social gaps in social and economic conditions. The data should also be used to assess and guide the formulation of policies and action to prevent, combat and eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance.
  14. The Working Group notes with concern that the delays in the appointment of Commissioners to the Human Rights Commission  and the Ethnic Relations Commission means that there is a protection gap as there is no monitoring of human rights obligations, and specifically the prohibition of racism and racial discrimination.
  15. The Working Group learnt that the judicial system is undermined by the excessive length of proceedings, especially at pre-trial stages. Pre-trial detention is also a matter of serious concern.  In addition, the enjoyment of the right to legal representation is often limited to those who can afford to pay. This gives rise to a serious concern about the right to a fair trial in the criminal justice system.
  16. Civil society reported that racial profiling by the Guyana Police Force largely impacted people of African descent.
  17. The overcrowding of prisons constitutes a serious reason of concern for the Working Group. Overcrowding is caused by limited capacity of prison facilities, lengthy pre-trial detention and lack of resources.  The Working Group visited Lusignan Prison and found that majority of inmates in the prison are Afro-Guyanese. The inmates are kept in appalling conditions not fit for human habitation. The facility is located close to a landfill with foul odour coming from stagnant dirty water. The unhygienic conditions of the prison and associated health risks are of serious concern. Due to its wooden construction, the facility also poses a significant fire hazard. The Working Group found that the Prison clearly fell short of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules).
  18. The Working Group is also concerned by reports of extra-judicial killings by the police over the past decades and the failure to effectively investigate and provide justice, including when people of African descent were targeted.
  19. Civil society reported that juvenile detention centres were similar in conditions to prisons and were not adequate to rehabilitate juveniles. They also reported that there were no specific diversionary options for juveniles in order to ensure that detention is the last resort.
  20. The Working Group noted serious deficiencies in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by people of African descent. The Working Group learnt of the considerable challenges, such as lack of job opportunities, inadequate access to quality health care, social security, environmental risks and access to secondary and tertiary education. There is considerable under-investment in rural areas and access to most resources and opportunities is significantly centralized in Georgetown. Civil society reported that Afro-Guyanese villages were distinctly recognizable by poor infrastructure and in particular substandard housing and roads. 
  21. The Working Group is concerned that the curriculum does not accurately reflect the history and contributions of people of African descent in Guyana.
  22. The Working Group learnt that Afro-Guyanese women often faced inequalities and multiple forms of discrimination on the grounds of their race, colour, gender and religious belief as a result of the Guyanese historical legacies.
  23. The Working Group also heard that many women of African descent are afraid or reluctant to report crimes such as domestic violence or sexual abuse for fear of stigmatization within their communities.
  24. The Working Group noted that Rastafari suffer multiple forms of discrimination based on race, gender and religion.
  25. Civil society reported that the LGBT community in Guyana struggles with discrimination, male homosexuality is still penalized, and there have been recent convictions for cross-dressing. The Constitution, as well as the Prevention of Discrimination Act do not explicitly offer guarantees against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  26. The following recommendations are intended to assist Guyana in its efforts to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance. The Government of Guyana should:
  27. Undertake impact-oriented activities in the framework of the International Decade for people of African descent to bridge the existing gaps between policies and practice. This should include the implementation of relevant recommendations for recognition, justice and development of people of African descent in Guyana. The International Decade for People of African Descent presents opportunities to showcase achievements in this regard.
  28. The authorities should be encouraged to seriously consider constitutional reform that would reinforce protection and promotion of human rights to address racism and racial discrimination.
  29. The Working Group recommends that both the Ethnic Relations Commission and the Human Rights Commission be constituted without further delay. At the same time, the Working Group also urges the Government to equip these institutions with the necessary financial, human and technical expertise with full independence and powers to fulfil their responsibilities.
  30. The authorities are encouraged to strengthen the functions and capacity of the Office of Ombudsman in terms of expanding its human, financial and technical capacities, to carry out investigations on its own accord.
  31. The Working Group strongly recommends that the Government collects, compiles, analyzes, disseminates and publishes reliable statistical data and undertakes all necessary measures to assess regularly the situation of individuals and groups of individuals who are victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
  32. Recalling paragraph 99 of the Durban Declaration, in which States concerned are called upon “to honour the memory of the victims of past tragedies and affirm that, wherever and whenever these occurred, they must be condemned and their recurrence prevented”. The Government of Guyana should adopt measures to preserve, protect and restore the memory of sites and places of the transatlantic trade in Africans and enslaved resistance, giving increased visibility to this history and culture through museums, monuments, visual arts and other means. 
  33. Resources must be provided to people of African descent for the celebration of Emancipation Month.
  34. In consultation with people of African descent, the relevant authorities should find ways to create memorials to honour people of African descent and African victims of historic tragedies. By way of example, sites of memory should be erected in Linden to commemorate the events of 1964 and 2012.
  35. The Government should review and ensure that textbooks and other educational materials reflect historical facts accurately as they relate to past tragedies and atrocities such as enslavement, trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism.
  36. The Government should ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture, the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and remove reservations to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Art. 14).
  37. The Government should adopt a National Action Plan against racial discrimination developed with consultations and involvement of civil society and associations representing people of African descent, with focus on structural racial discrimination, legislative reforms, accountability and enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation, in line with the relevant provisions of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. 
  38. The Government is strongly encouraged to undertake efforts aimed at a reform of its judicial system. In particular, steps are required to ensure that the right to fair trial without undue delay is guaranteed not only in theory but also in practice.
  39. Racial profiling must be prohibited by law and a complaint mechanism must be put in place to address this problem in Guyana.
  40. All prisons must be operated in accordance with international human rights obligations, including the Mandela Rules. Overcrowding of prisons and detention centres must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Measures must be taken to improve the infrastructure and hygienic conditions and make available the necessary material, human and budgetary resources to ensure that the conditions of detention are in conformity with minimum international standards. Prisons which are not fit for human habitation, such as Lusignan Prison, must be closed down without any delay and be replaced with facilities that meet international standards. 
  41. Juvenile detention centres must adhere to international human rights standards and implement programs for the rehabilitation of children. There should be independent monitoring and inspection of all facilities in which children and youth are placed to ensure that standards of treatment and care are maintained.
  42. The Government should take the necessary measures to guarantee that prompt and impartial inquiries are conducted into all extra-judicial killings by the police, including those targeting people of African descent, perpetrators are prosecuted and effective remedies are provided to victims.
  43. The teaching of history should be mandatory at the primary and secondary educational levels, thereby giving children of African descent a connection with their past and a sense of cultural identity. This knowledge will also be beneficial to others who will come to appreciate the contribution of Afro Guyanese to the culture and development of Guyana and could help address the negative stereotypes and stigma that Afro Guyanese face.
  44. We urge the government to revise and develop specific curricula and corresponding teaching materials which respect and recognize history, including the transatlantic trade in Africans. Such curricula should be incorporated into formal and informal education at the early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
  45. The Working Group encourages the Government to consider establishing vocational schools across the country, as well as university level education in Linden.
  46. The authorities are encouraged to invest resources on sport activities and programs for the youth, including young adults of African descent.
  47. Guyana should take all necessary measures to ensure full implementation of the right to adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing.
  48. Land allocation, including ancestral land must be identified and demarcated.
  49. Poverty, which largely affects people of African descent must be addressed through the establishment of dedicated development funds to empower people of African descent who have been left behind.
  50. The Working Group urges the implementation of policies that accelerate decentralization of power and access to resources. Special steps should be undertaken in order to increase accessibility of affordable loans to entrepreneurships of African descent.
  51. Adequate policies should be implemented in order to prevent and effectively prosecute sexual harassment in the labour environment and beyond.
  52. People of African Descent should have access to health care whenever necessary. Full access to affordable medicines and vaccines is essential. Schemes of universal health coverage and the public health system should be ensured without any discrimination.
  53. The Working Group urges the Government  to urgently introduce programmes aimed at reducing the suicide rate. In this regard, special attention should be paid to programmes enhancing medical and psychological care for those affected.
  54. Mental health must be given adequate attention in the framework of Guyana’s health policy. Effective access to psychological care and advisory services must be ensured for all ages, in particular for youth and young adults, those struggling with economic difficulties, as well as the elderly.
  55. There should be programmes aimed at preventing and treating substance abuse. The efforts aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention should also be reinforced.
  56. The Government should initiate legal reforms aimed at addressing the cultural and religious rights of Rastafari.
  57. In accordance with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the Working Group urges political leaders and political parties to actively combat racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance, as well as promote solidarity, tolerance and respect.
  58. The Working Group reminds media of their important role as a public watchdog with special responsibilities for ensuring that factual and reliable information about people of African descent is reported, while refraining from political hate speech and polarization of the society.
  59. The Working Group urges the government to partner with civil society organisations when framing important legislations pertaining to people of African descent and provide civil society with adequate funding.
  60. The Working Group encourages the United Nations Country Team to support the implementation of the International Decade for people of African descent and the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda with focus on indicators relevant for people of African descent.
  61. Guyana must continue to play an active role in seeking reparatory justice through efforts underway in the CARICOM region, including its ten Point Action Plan on Reparations.
  62. The Working Group would like to reiterate its satisfaction at the Government’s willingness to engage in dialogue, cooperation and action to combat racial discrimination. We hope that our report will support the Government in this process and we express our willingness to assist in this important endeavour.