Guyana: Crisis in justice and penitentiary systems greatly affect human rights, UN experts warn

Major deficiencies in the justice and prison systems in Guyana, including a jail not fit for human habitation, are having a disproportionate impact on people of African descent, a group of UN human rights experts has said after visiting the country.

Geneve, Oct 09, 2017.- “The administration of justice is undermined by the excessive length of proceedings, especially at pre-trial stages. Prolonged pre-trial detention, sub-standard prison facilities and a lack of resources have all resulted in a crisis which greatly impacts on a large number of Afro-Guyanese,” said Sabelo Gumedze, who currently heads the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

The statement follows a visit from 2 to 6 October by a delegation of the Working Group which visited Georgetown, Linden and Buxton, to gain first-hand knowledge on racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance affecting people of African descent in Guyana.

“We urge the Government to undertake concrete efforts aimed at reforming its justice and penitentiary systems. In particular, steps are required to ensure that the right to fair trial is guaranteed not only in theory but also in practice. We call on the Government to immediately address the appalling conditions at the Lusignan Prison, which is not fit for human habitation,” Mr. Gumedze said.

The delegation, which also included human rights experts Michal Balcerzak and Ahmed Reid, welcomed ongoing efforts by the administration to address racial discrimination faced by people of African descent, in partnership with Afro-Guyanese communities and civil society organizations promoting the rights of people of African descent.

“We noted, among other measures, the effort by the Government through a Commission of Enquiry to resolve ownership of lands acquired by Afro- Guyanese among others,” Mr. Gumedze said.

However, the Working Group noted with concern that delays in the appointment of Commissioners to the Human Rights Commission and the Ethnic Relations Commission meant that there was a protection gap, as there was no monitoring of racism and racial discrimination.

During the five-day mission, the human rights experts engaged with representatives of Government, human rights institutions and civil society.

They also promoted the International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs from 2015 to 2024 and aims both to highlight the contribution of people of African descent to societies and strengthen national, regional and international cooperation to ensure the human rights of people of African descent are respected, promoted and fulfilled.

“We welcome the civil society led-initiative to coordinate the programmes, plans and events for the International Decade for people of African descent in Guyana and the call by the Government for submissions of funding proposals to carry out activities related to the International Decade,” Mr. Gumedze said.

The Working Group will present a report containing its findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018.

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