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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report on Guyana

29 September 2015

29 September 2015

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights yesterday and today considered the combined second to fourth periodic reports Guyana.

Raphael Trotman, Member of Parliament and Minster of Governance of Guyana, said that the report submitted in 2012 combined the second, third and fourth periodic reports and covered an 18-year period from 1995 to 2012. General elections had been held in May 2015 and the party which had submitted the report in 2012 and had spent 23 years in power had been ousted. Mr. Trotman assured that the attainment of economic, social and cultural rights was a priority for the new Government. The new Government would review the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and would consider its ratification, as well as the ratification of the International Labour Organisation Convention 169. Initiatives such as the Hinterland Scholarship Programme were in place to ensure enrollment in school among the Amerindian children; health huts were established to ensure provision of health in remote communities, including the Amerindian communities; and the Amerindian Development Fund was funded with royalties from mining. Other positive developments were a solar panel programme which distributed 10,000 solar panels to households, a programme which would ensure that by 2016, 95 percent of the population were provided potable water, as well as the Hinterland Language and Sports Commission, which aimed to preserve indigenous languages and traditional sports.

Committee Experts regretted that the they had waited for such a long time, namely 20 years, to review the report. They asked for clarifications in the Constitution in order to confirm the justiciability of the Covenant. Questions focused on the discrimination against the Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese, as well as the Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, in addition to discrimination against persons with disabilities and individuals from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community. Experts also inquired about laws and measures to improve the rights of those groups, including education, health, and poverty alleviation measures. Questions were also asked about the provision of legal aid, availability of the Internet for more vulnerable populations, universal primary education and drop-out rates, social schemes and the ratification of International Labour Organisation Convention 169. Some of the issues of serious concern were the alarming rates of infant mortality, and the lack of clear statistics.

In his concluding remarks, Zdizslaw Kedzia, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for their frank answers and truly cooperative spirit and noted that one of the recurring questions was the problem of discrimination. The Committee had heard about various projects and would be pleased to hear about their results.

Mr. Trotman, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the dialogue which had shed light on the areas where more emphasis was needed, and recognized that more attention needed to be paid to Guyana’s international obligations.

The delegation of Guyana included representatives of the Ministry of Governance and the Embassy of Guyana in Belgium.

The Committee will next meet at 3 p.m. today when it will consider the fourth periodic report of Iraq (E/C.12/IRQ/4).


The second to fourth periodic report of Guyana (E/C.12/GUY/2-4) can be read here.
Presentation of the Report

RAPHAEL TROTMAN, Member of Parliament and Minster of Governance of Guyana, said that the Report submitted in 2012 combined the second, third and fourth periodic reports and covered an 18-year period from 1995 to 2012. General elections had been held on 11 May 2015. The Government, which had submitted the report in 2012, had since changed. Time and circumstances had thus overtaken some aspects of the report.

The most important political development that had taken place during the reporting period was the 1999 Act of Parliament which had established the Constitutional Reform Commission. The Commission had successfully completed its tasks and recommendations for constitutional amendments, which included the right to work with technical and vocational guidance and training, the right to steady economic, social and cultural development, and full and productive employment, the right to an adequate standard of living and right to adequate food, clothing and housing and to continuous improvement of living conditions.

The creation of a domestic violence policy was key to the empowerment and national recognition of women’s rights. The country was now focused on the review and implementation of that policy and efforts were under way to create a gender strategy that would address issues of gender relations.

Efforts had also been made to raise the national profile of the indigenous peoples. The recognition of Amerindian land rights, the establishment of the month of September to celebrate the culture of the nine tribes and the revitalization of efforts within the education sector to preserve the languages and ensure the content was culturally relevant. In September 2015, a Social Cohesion Roundtable had been convened and had seen the participation of hundreds of Guyanese from all ethnic groups to discuss ways of achieving greater respect for, and celebration of, different cultures.

Mr. Trotman informed that the Supreme Court of Guyana had established a special Constitutional and Public Law Court in 2011, which dealt exclusively with constitutional and public law matters. That change had allowed for constitutional motions to be addressed expeditiously.

Questions by Experts

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that it was regretful that the Committee had waited such a long time, namely 20 years, to receive the report.

He asked the delegation whether there were any examples of cases in which the provisions of the Covenant had been invoked before domestic courts or applied by domestic courts. If a constitutional right dealt with a matter also covered by the Covenant, could the Covenant not be invoked by the rights holders?

Mr. Kedzia asked another set of questions on the National Human Rights Institution: what was the status of that Institution and of the five Commissions? Who appointed the members of the Institution? Was the chairperson appointed and removable by the President? Had the Office of the Ombudsman had been established yet?

Serious inter-ethnic tensions had adversely influenced the development of the country since at least the 1960s. What was the current situation of Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese? What steps had been taken by Guyana to prevent and combat ethnic discrimination with regard to these two groups? Was the concept of power sharing still considered as a possible constitutional solution?

Another Expert said that the Amerindian Act of 2006 had a broad range of exemptions, particularly with regard to mining and logging activities. Hence, there was little inspection on illegal mining and logging activities. Were mining and logging activities considered as major problems for indigenous peoples?

The law on discrimination did not cover all grounds specified in the Covenant. Was there a definition of direct discrimination in the policies and did the Government envisage broadening of the law?

Had the concept of reasonable accommodation been adopted, the Expert asked.

Another Expert said that there seemed to be limited institutional capacity in order to produce reports on time. There was also a backlog with other treaty bodies as well. He inquired whether it would not be wise to seek technical assistance from the United Nations.

What was the position on the ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights?

What were the plans to step up the fight against corruption, and could the assistance from the United Nations help in that regard?

An Expert expressed concern on the laws that criminalized activities among of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual individuals and asked whether those laws would be amended. Were there any rights equivalent to marriage for couples of the same sex?

He also asked whether there were plans to ratify the International Labour Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

Would disaggregated data be provided on economic, social and cultural rights?

Another Expert inquired whether civil society had been consulted in the preparation of the report.

Regarding persons with disabilities, the Persons with Disabilities Act established a National Commission on Persons with Disabilities. More information was sought about its work.

What was the logic behind the creation of a men’s affairs bureau, an Expert asked.

Relating to access to land and land-grabs, the Expert asked about the role of village captains who represented communities. What happened if those did not represent the true will of the community?

The delegation was asked to provide details about conditions under which a person could be expelled from Guyana.

Were there any plans to remove the Ameri-Indians Act of 2006? What mechanisms had been established to enable indigenous peoples to seek and obtain restitution of their lands?

How were the anti-discrimination laws being implemented and where the violators criminalized?

Was there a programme supporting single-headed households intended to empower women? Were self-employed women in the agricultural sector covered by the National Insurance Scheme and, if so, what kinds of benefits were they entitled to?

On conditions of work, the Expert noted that Guyana had no policy on minimum wage. How were descent conditions of work ensured?

Microcredit programmes had created a double burden for women – could the delegation comment?

The delegation was also asked to assess the youth employment programme?

Question was asked about the existence of paternal leave.

Regarding the pension plan, an Expert asked whether it was really universal and if the amounts were sufficient.

Could the delegation provide employment rate for women and unemployment rate for youth, disaggregated by year for the previous five years? Could the delegation provide disaggregated data on employment and unemployment for persons with disabilities?

Did legislation provide for reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities?

What was the reason for the decrease in social spending, the Expert inquired.

Another Expert asked about the impact of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) on the availability of skilled workers in Guyana.

How was equal pay for work of equal value implemented? Did unemployment benefits exist?

An Expert asked about measures implemented to deal with child labour.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the Article 3 of the Constitution did provide for the Covenant to be part of domestic law. Article 154 was new to the Constitution and had been an attempt to find a consensus to broaden the rights. Under a new law, the right to abrogate was likely to be removed.

The five Commissions were appointed by the Parliament, in the absence of a National Human Rights Commission. The new Government was committed having a Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission by the end of 2015. The Office of the Ombudsman had been incorporated in January 2015, and there were plans to increase his capacities.

The delegation stated that every effort was being made to improve inter-ethnic relations, In September, a Social Cohesion Roundtable had taken place, facilitated by the Government with the help of the United Nations Development Programme and the British Government. The Ethnic Relations Committee would be established before the end of 2015.

The latest constitutional reforms had ensured the representation and inclusion of more stakeholders in power-sharing. The current Government included six parties, which was a historic precedent.

Regarding the Amerindian Act, it was explained that there were plans for a Land Commission in 2016 to look into lands held by the Amerindian people. The Government was currently investigating land disputes between miners and the Amerindians.

An anti-discrimination law did exist, but did not cover every area of discrimination. That would be addressed in the upcoming review of the Constitution, set to commence in January 2016.

Social stigma and discrimination regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community, and persons with disabilities existed, but changes would also be made with the next round of Constitutional reforms.

The previous Government had refused to acknowledge the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, but the current Government had started to take steps to develop relations. Help had been received and more was forthcoming in the fight against corruption.

One corruption case was being currently processed, against a Minister. There was a draft whistle blowers law in the makings, in order to better address the scourge of corruption.

Regarding the lack of disaggregated data, the delegation said that nothing had been done by the previous Government to analyze results of the census. The current Government had just purchased software and new data would be available in 2016, including on employment, which was currently not available.

It was not known to which degree the previous Government had consulted civil society in the drafting of the report.

The delegation stressed that Guyana had made great strides regarding the rights of women. Guyana had the first female Chief Justice and President in the Caribbean. Thus, the current focus was on men, following an acute rise in domestic violence.

There was no law giving protection in terms of same sex marriage, but that issue would be addressed in the near future.

Sexual discrimination existed, the delegation said, but the new Government was working on giving the necessary protection. Police had been instructed to provide support, protection and relief when requested.

There were indeed plans in place to revise the Amerindian Act and establish a Land Commission to examine the issue of how land titles were distributed. Amerindians were regarded as equal citizens under all laws.

The issue of mining and logging was a source of great tension for indigenous as well as other peoples residing in the hinterland. The Government was doing its best not to disturb any pristine forests. There were two Commissions for logging and mining respectively which heard all complaints regarding mining and logging. Mining and logging in the Amerindian communities was not allowed, but Amerindians themselves were involved in mining and logging.

The delegation explained that the National Insurance Scheme was compulsory, and as long as people made contributions they received benefits.

Experience with microcredit was mixed. The last programme had ended in May of 2015, with a 40 percent default rate. It was found that Amerindians were the most vulnerable.

There was no comprehensive youth policy, and the intention was to develop and implement one soon. More girls were going to the university, while boys opted for jobs with a faster rate of return and minimum effort.

Regarding paternal leave, the delegation said that men should be entitled to it.

Old-age pensions were universal and were granted upon application, the delegation explained. A five-year review was based on the capacity and economic ability of the country, and the Government considered it adequate. However, the height of pensions was examined on an annual basis.

There was a minimum wage in the private sector, and laws were also applied to the public sector. The Minster of Labour herself led labour inspections.

The rights of persons with disabilities were promoted by the Government, but itt was an ongoing process. Most government buildings had been adapted to ensure access. A clause in the Constitution requiring literacy for a Member in Parliament would be amended.

The delegation informed that Guyana had lost many of its teachers and doctors due to the Caribbean Community and Common Market, but Guyana had an agreement with Cuba for training, which compensated for that trend.

The Government provided support for business start-ups, but not on a monthly continuous basis.

Regarding child labour, a recently formed Child Protection Agency included staff from the Ministry of Education and had offices in 8 of the 10 regions. There was a hotline where persons could call in to make complaints.

Questions by Experts

On the right to health, could the delegation clarify the statistics on reduction of malaria and tuberculosis?

What steps had been taken to address the high rate of poverty in the country, which had stood at 36 percent in 2013, and people living in extreme poverty? 73 percent of the Amerindians were reported to be living in extreme poverty.

An Expert asked what happened to indigenous persons when evicted. Were they given prior notice, alternate accommodation, or adequate compensation? What measures were taken to ensure that indigenous peoples had access to water?

What were the causes for maternal mortality, an Expert asked.

Question was asked about the legislation regarding abortion.

An Expert inquired if there was an intention to raise the legal marriage age to 18.

What was the reason for the very high level of female-headed households?

In hospitals, there was allegedly no service for persons with disabilities. Patients with HIV were treated badly by medical personnel. How did laws and practice ensure the enjoyment of rights of those persons?

What was the Government doing to combat the ignorance and misconceptions regarding HIV/AIDS, an Expert asked.
Another Expert inquired if the current administration was planning to establish a body to allow farmers to participate in the creation of policies regarding agriculture?

What protection was given to an increasing number children of migrants in institutional care?

There was no access to contraceptives to adolescents, which could become a structural problem, an Expert noted.

Another Expert asked about reasons for the discrepancy of school enrolment data.
Was there information on the phenomenon of the high drop-out rates from high school.

Was secondary education now universal? There were nine indigenous languages, three of which were at the risk of extinction. Were those languages present in the education system?

An Expert said that the situation of education of Amerindians in the hinterland was deplorable. What was being done in that regard?

Persons with disabilities could not enjoy the right to education. What measures were being taken by the State party to change the current situation?

An Expert asked whether the Internet was equally accessed regionally, as well as across different ethnic groups.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that legal aid existed, although individuals did not necessarily use it, due to the fear of reprisals, and sometimes just because of distance.

Some 50,000 families had benefited from the “One laptop per family” programme thus far. A new programme – “One laptop per teacher” being was currently launched.

Universal primary education and gender parity had been attained, the delegation said. 83 percent of children were in primary schools – 82 percent of boys and 85 percent of girls. A decline in budget spending on education did not mean that investment in education was lowered, but rather that spending increased for construction of schools or books. In 2015, 15 percent of the Gross Domestic Product was spent on education.

The new Government would consider ratifying the International Labour Organisation Convention 169. Based on law and practice, Guyana was already abiding by the Convention. Free and prior consent, for example, was included in the Amerindian Act. The new Government would also consider the ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.

Regarding infant mortality, it was explained that the rate had been 17.9 per thousand in 2011; 16.2 in 2012; 15.7 in 2013; and 23.9 per thousand in 2014. The delegation could not provide a reason for the sharp increase in 2014.

On HIV/AIDS statistics, figures were available from 2002 to 2014. In 2002, the number of persons with HIV/AIDS had been 1,023, while in 2014 that number stood at 836.

The Amerindian Development Fund was funded with royalties from mining, 20 percent of which went to the Fund, and the rest was donated by Norway. The funding went towards socio-economic and environmental projects based on the needs of the Amerindian community.
A food security strategy was in place. The Food and Agriculture Organisation was very active in Guyana, the delegation informed.

The enrollment in schools among Amerindinan children was lower than the country average of 83 percent, due to problems including distance of schools. The Hinterland Scholarship Programme ensured that Amerindian children could travel to schools. Efforts by the Government were supported by churches and missionary organisations.

Efforts were also being made to make health accessible to the hinterland community through the establishment of health huts. Amerindians chose to rely on traditional cures even for child delivery, the practice which was being dissuaded but not abolished.

There was a solar panel programme which distributed 10,000 solar panels to households in order to provide electricity. By 2016, a capital fund would ensure that 95 percent of the population were provided potable water.

Regarding Internet access, the delegation informed that approximately 400,000 people had cellular phones. A village in a remote area, for example, had recently won a world prize for its Internet access.

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked if a system could be introduced to check whether new laws were in line with human rights instruments and whether these laws were in conflict with each other.

Another Expert asked whether self-employed agricultural workers benefited from the National Insurance Scheme. Had there been increased benefits for the beneficiaries?

What measures had been taken to raise awareness regarding the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community?

Many Experts were concerned about the sharp discrepancies provided by the Government on statistics on health and enrollment in primary schools, and asked for further clarifications on those.

What was the policy of the Government regarding employment of persons with disabilities. Were there legal requirements in the public and private sectors to employ those persons, and were there tax or other incentives in place? Was there a policy on accessing buildings?

An Expert asked whether Guyana had the capacity to implement its plans. Was the Government planning to devise an international initiative for cooperation and support in order to improve the situation of economic, social and cultural rights?

Another Expert stated that a strong Bureau of Statistics was needed in order to provide better statistics.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation apologized for the discrepancies in the statistics which had been provided by the previous Government, and undertook responsibilityto improve data collection, analysis and the veracity and accuracy of the statistics provided. Funding for the new Bureau of Statistics had already been provided by the United States.

The delegation assured the Committee that there were definitely political will and capacity. As it was the first new Government after a long time, there was an upsurge in assistance from local and international organisations, and the Government was taking advantage of it.

The delegation said that some legislation did conflict, but the courts acted as guardians and there were filters in place. Every effort was made to ensure that the laws were in line with the Convention.

The National Insurance Scheme provided many benefits, including for old age, survival, invalidity, maternity, child care, and constant attendant benefits. The Scheme was open to all workers, including agricultural and self-employed. It was a contributory scheme: if one contributed - one would benefit. Most, but not all, workers contributed.

Regarding changing the mindset on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual individuals, the delegation informed that there was a Social Cohesion Conference in September, the issue was being addressed and it was an ongoing project.

There were two acts targeting discrimination against persons with disabilities: the Persons with Disabilities Act and the Prevention of Discrimination Act. The delegation acknowledged that problems persisted. Access to institutions by Amerindian children was challenged, and there were discriminatory practices, as well as violence, neglect and abuse. All new buildings were required to have access for persons with disabilities, but some still did not. Public assistance would be provided to persons with disabilities. The requirement for persons with disabilities to prove their disabilities biannually had been removed.

The Government had announced the start of a project to preserve indigenous languages. Wherever possible, children in indigenous communities would receive instruction in their own languages. A Hinterland Language and Sports Commission had been established.

There was a school uniform programme, and a large budgetary allocation had just been approved for the provision of a hot meal and a snack to all primary school children.

Regarding migrant children, the delegation said that there were 700 in homes, many of whom placed there by parents. The United Nations Children’s Fund was also actively involved. There was an active programme for placing children with families and in foster care. Institutionalization was an option of last resort.

There was an active governmental programme through which condoms were distributed freely by the thousands as part of Guyana’s Age Response Programme.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act gave women the right to choose, the delegation explained.

Guyana had already ratified 43 of the International Labour Organization’s Conventions and was considered the highest in terms of ratification in the Caribbean region. Thus, there was no reason why it would not ratify the International Labour Convention 169.

Questions by Experts

An Expert noted a discrepancy between the reduced levels of child mortality and the data concerning stunting of children. The percentage of children under five who were stunted had been 14 percent in 1997, 18 percent in 2006, and 20 percent in 2009. While child mortality was decreasing, stunting was on the rise. It seemed that exclusive breast feeding for the six first months was not sufficiently encouraged. What efforts were being made to encourage more exclusive breast feeding? Were employers encouraged to allow that practice? Was there an intention to inrease the number of health care facilities that were considered baby friendly in Guyana?
Regarding minimum age of marriage, several Experts said that some cultural practices were discriminatory and traditions in violation of the Covenant were not tolerated. Would the Government undertake a more proactive approach in that regard?

Had the Government analyzed reasons for the high number of female-headed households?

The delegation had not fully responded to the questions on social benefits, an Expert noted. Could self-employed persons who did not contribute benefit from the Social Protection Scheme?

Regarding old age pensions, where they large enough to ensure an adequate standard of living?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation replied that underage marriage was not tolerated in Guyana and such practices led to criminalization for rape. The current legal age for marriage was 16, and increasing it to 18 was now under review.

There was a breastfeeding policy and an awareness-raising campaign to promote breast-feeding, which was supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund. International partners, including the World Health Organization, were also involved in making hospitals more baby-friendly, in three hinterland regions.

The number of female-headed households was high due to the absence of fathers who had migrated to the hinterland for mining or agriculture work, or had left Guyana. Efforts were being made in 2016 to make fathers more responsible for their children.

Persons who did not contribute to the Social Protection Scheme relied on other assistance. Culturally, families supported each other and there was a high rate of remittances coming from North America.

The monthly pension was the equivalent was 75 USD a month. This was not adequate, but it was what the economy could provide. Pensions were adjusted every year.

Concluding Remarks

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for their frank answers and the truly cooperative spirit. He hoped that the delegation now had a better understanding of the concepts shared by Committee. One of the recurring questions was the problem of discrimination across the country, including the hinterland, as well as across ethnic groups. The Committee was assured that the Government attached a great importance to fighting discrimination against various groups. The Committee had heard about various projects which could significantly improve the enjoyment of economic social and cultural rights, and would be pleased to hear about their results.

RAPHAEL TROTMAN, Member of Parliament, and Minster of Governance of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, said that the delegation had come before the Committee with some trepidation, not knowing what the process would be and recognizing that Guyana had not reported since 1999. However, without being able to test efforts, Guyana would not know if it was going in the right direction. The dialogue had showed areas where more emphasis was needed, and the delegation had learned from it. More attention needed to be paid to international obligations.

WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, said that it was fortunate that the new Government was in place. He hoped that the concluding observations would be taken on board by the new Government, as it proceeded to undertake new policies. The Government ought to be mindful of its commitment under the Covenant in letter as well as in spirit. He was glad that under the dialogue, the Minister had the authority to make commitments and promises, and the Committee would hence hold him accountable for all the commitments he had made.


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