The statutory limit of the rights commissions has expired

Dear Editor,

I welcome the statement issued recently by the Women & Gender Equality Commission (WGEC) calling for the repeal of archaic and discriminatory laws.

Editor, there is another bit of housekeeping that must be attended to. The statutory limit of the Child Rights (ROC), Indigenous Peoples and Women & Gender Equality Commissions, to the best of my knowledge, have all expired.

Article 212H (1) of the Guyana Constitution says the rights commissions inclusive of all the commissions mentioned above and their respective commissioners:

“… shall be appointed for three years (my emphasis) and shall be eligible for re-appointment (also my emphasis).”

To the best of my knowledge, the last commissioners for the WGEC as well as the ROC were appointed by the National Assembly in 2009.

The WGEC appointments included Shalimar Ali-Hack; Vanda Radzik; Nandranie Coonjah; Debra Ann Henry; Bibi Haliema Khan; Gaitra Baron; Indranie Chandarpal; Peter Persaud; Gillian Burton-Persaud; Renata Chuck-A-Sang; Ernestine Barker-Logan; Cheryl Sampson; Karen Vansluytman-Corbin; Hymawattie Lagan; and Nicole Cole.

Meanwhile, the Child Rights Commission included Kaloutie Nauth; Yvonne Fox; Sarojanie Rambarran, Aleema Nasir; Colleen Anthony; Marissa Massiah; Michelle Kalamadeen; Suelle Findlay-Williams; Sandra Hooper; Rosemary Benjamin-Noble; Hyacinth Massay; Banmattie Ram; Shirley Ferguson; Vidyaratha Kissoon; and Kwame McCoy.

Kissoon resigned in 2010 owing to the “child maltreatment” allegations levelled against child rights commissioner, Kwame McCoy, who I believe still serves on the Commission today.

I am unaware of any re-appointments made between 2012 and 2017. If I am correct, the three-year statutory limit is far exceeded.

The statement by the Women & Gender Equality Commission reminds Guyanese about human rights and the state’s obligation to ensuring the functionality of mechanisms which guard against human rights violations.

The recent announcement about the referendum on decriminalisation of homosexuality shows that there is a lot of ignorance about human rights in Guyana. There are other human rights abuses in our laws including child-beating and the death penalty.

Editor, it must be said that Article 212N (1&2) of the Constitution provides for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission, a body which has never been convened.

Article 212N (4) says the Human Rights Commission would comprise a chairperson, and the chairpersons of the Child Rights, Indigenous Peoples’, Women & Gender Equality, and Ethnic Relations Commissions ‒ a total of five members.

During the January 2016 budget debates, questions were raised about the financial allocations for the non-existent Human Rights Commission, and government MP Raphael Trotman responded.  All of these commissions have a mandate to update Guyana’s laws and to educate the Guyanese public about human rights. All commissioners should therefore be aware and should subscribe to the human rights conventions to which Guyana has agreed.

Trotman told the National Assembly then that the allocation “shows the intention of this Government to ensure that, by the end of 2016, there shall be, for the first time in the history of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, a Human Rights Commission.”

As the government official who now holds responsibility for the rights commissions, Prime Minister and first Vice-President Moses Nagamootoo must ensure the full functionality of these integral bodies, in accordance with the principles of the Constitution, and furthermore, fulfill government’s promise in the National Assembly.

Yours faithfully,
Derwayne Wills

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