The government was scheduled to present to Parliament yesterday nominations for the Child Rights Commission, one of six promised Constitutional Commissions, exactly one year after the much-publicized Stakeholder Agreement was signed.
And according to the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) the time lapse demonstrates contempt for the stakeholder process since the Stakeholder Agreement included the commitment to establish six Constitutional Commissions within ninety days, by June 11, 2008.
The GHRA contended in a press release yesterday that “requiring a year to present a list of nominees for this Constitutional Commission is obviously a sop to civil society, and not a sign of good intent.” This “suggests that the Stakeholder Agreement between the Government, Parliamentary Opposition and civil society organizations was only a matter of short-term convenience.”
Moreover, the GHRA also called on all civil society nominees to refuse to accept membership of the Child Rights Commission until the name of Kwame McKoy is removed from the list, referring to him as a “divisive partisan figure.”
The release argued that if the Appointive Committee of Parliament (ACP) had acted in good faith in shouldering its responsibility for compiling nominations for the various Commissions, it should have followed the logic of the stakeholder process and consulted with those civil society organizations that had been active in promoting the Rights Commissions.
This was the step that should have been followed in June 2008 when the first efforts of the Appointive Committee produced zero results, the GHRA said. At that time, on June 6, 2008, the civic group, Forum on Effectiveness & Solidarity (FES) had presented a Memorandum to the ACP, as well as to the Attorney General, given his responsibility for activating the Constitutional Reform Committee, the human rights body added.
It noted too that this memorandum was ratified by over 60 organizations from a wide geographic range and of varied interests. It contained, the release noted, detailed suggestions for activating the Constitutional Commissions as well as for convening and activating the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform.
The ACP acknowledged receipt of these suggestions but made no move to seek the support of these organizations in ensuring the success of the nomination process for membership of the various commissions, according to the GHRA. It charged further that the ACP instead established several caucuses which, apart from the women’s caucus, were assigned to organizations under ministerial control or to organizations which had no interest in organizing them.
“Thus, the Ministry of Health was able to chair the ‘Other organizations’ caucus as if it were a civil society organization and exercised votes which decisively influenced the outcome. The Youth Caucus was organized out of the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sport. The ‘Services’ caucus had to be rescued by emergency action on the part of the Parliamentary Office, (and) ‘religious” organizations were exempted from caucusing,” the GHRA stated.
It declared also that “without detailing the numerous shortcomings of this disappointing process, the manoeuvre to include the name of Kwame McKoy among the nominees for the Rights of the Child Commission (ROCC) must be highlighted and condemned.”
According to the GHRA, McKoy originally sought to be elected, under the name Quame McCoy, by the Youth Caucus nominated by the Guyana Youth Development Association. He failed to win that election and the subsequent inclusion of his name, apparently as the Ministry of Human Services delegate, is not subject to caucus voting, the release added.
The GHRA asserted that “as an elected Regional PPP Councillor for Region Four as well as the Press Officer at the Office of the President, his nomination violates a number of constitutional norms, as well as the authoritative Paris Principles on National Human Rights Institutions, which stipulates that ‘independence from the political Executive’ is the first principle applying to membership of human rights bodies.”
“Inclusion of such a divisive partisan figure on the Child Rights Commission by the Ministry of Human Services is particularly shameful, underlining an ominous disrespect for the constitutional process and for child rights,” the human rights body maintained.
In that light, the GHRA urged all civil society nominees to refuse to accept membership of the commission until the name of Kwame McKoy was removed from the list.
The government now has a responsibility to treat this process for establishment of the six Rights Commissions with the seriousness required by the Constitution, the GHRA said, and in that regard its first action should be naming and activating the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform.
In the absence of this action, the GHRA continued, the multiple conflicts in the existing arrangements for making the Constitutional Commissions functional cannot be addressed and the following questions will remain unanswered.
According to the human rights body, these questions are: “What is the future of the existing National Commissions on Women and on the Rights of the Child in light of the new Commissions?”; “Are the existing inter-locking mechanisms that require representation on all Commissions by each of the new Commissions to be abolished?”; “Is it not perfectly feasible, as things now stand, for one person to become a member of four Constitutional Commissions?”; and “a final question to be answered fully and frankly by the ACP pertains to the status of nominations to the other Rights Commissions.”