There is a perception in Guyana, the United States Department of State 2008 Human Rights Report released on Wednesday said, that some police officers and magistrates could be bribed to make cases of domestic violence, child rape and criminal child abuse “go away.” Were it not for the vortex of fear surrounding us all in the CLICO saga, there would have been by now the usual how-dare-they-accuse-us responses to the report. But we all know what has been said about those who protest too much.

In Guyana, the State Department’s report also said, violence against women, including domestic violence, is widespread and crosses racial and socioeconomic lines. It notes that the law prohibits domestic violence, gives women the right to seek prompt protection, and allows victims to seek protection, occupation, or tenancy orders from a magistrate. However, the legislation, the Domestic Violence Act, was frequently not enforced.
It added that according to Help and Shelter, government enforcement of laws against domestic violence was poor. “Help and Shelter asserted that magistrates and magistrate court staff lacked sensitivity to the problem of domestic violence and to their roles in ensuring implementation of the law. In addition not all police officers fully understood provisions of the law; some officers reportedly could not recognize the paper form on which a protection order is written.”

The State Department does not pull its reports out of a hat, nor does it spy to obtain the information contained in its reports, which address human rights practices in countries around the world.  They are compiled from information acquired through a wide variety of sources, including US and foreign government officials, victims of human rights abuse, academic and congressional studies, and reports from the press, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights. And it notes that much of the information in its country reports is already public knowledge; it might not be official because most governments and opposition groups deny that they commit human rights abuses and sometimes go to great lengths to conceal any evidence of such acts.

The State Department said it rarely quotes the source of its information – for obvious reasons – tries as hard as possible to evaluate their credibility and does not use sources it believes lack credibility.

However, in the instance cited above, it said that the information had come from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Not surprising, since several NGOs routinely counsel women and children who have been victims of incest, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as physical and psychological domestic and partner abuse. Several NGOs consistently send representatives and volunteers to court to provide moral support to abused women and children and in some cases to help them understand the court process. Allegations hitherto unproven abound about the practice of “passing something under the table” to officials to make a case disappear. And in some instances case jackets have mysteriously vanished and witnesses have either developed amnesia or told outright lies. As further evidence of the government not applying the law, the report noted that in instances where the alleged victim or victim’s family agreed to accept a monetary payment out of court, prosecution of the case immediately ended. This should not be. The state, through its prosecuting arm should still pursue justice, since the accused would not have been charged in the first place, if there were no evidence tying him/her to the crime. And in any case, commonsense tells us that no one would hand over money in an out-of-court settlement, if s/he were innocent of the charge/s laid. Anyone who is falsely accused would want to clear his/her name; would want his/her day in court.

What is unfortunate is that in officialdom, there never seems to be a reasoned approach to reports such as these. Intolerance of even constructive criticism is the order of the day and the response usually is the pointing of fingers at the US’s human rights record, when instead, there ought to be the taking on board of the poor practices outlined in the report and moves to implement systems to correct them.

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