US backs call for full human rights probe

-outgoing chargé d’affaires
The US Government believes all human rights issues in Guyana should be investigated thoroughly, according to outgoing Chargé d’Affaires Karen Williams, who says necessary steps should be taken to ensure that rights are observed and protected.

Outgoing US Chargé d’Affaires Karen Williams (left) yesterday held a roundtable discussion with members of the media of a variety of issues at the US Embassy. In this photograph Williams is seen making a point while newly appointed Public Affairs Officer Charlotte Hu looks on.

Williams, while addressing a roundtable with the media at the US Embassy, was asked whether the US government supported the call made by the UK and Canada for an independent probe into abuses allegedly committed by a ‘phantom  squad’ between 2000 and 2006.

The UK and Canada made the call at the recent Human Rights Review held for Guyana in Geneva, while the US had said it was “deeply concerned” about reports of unlawful extra-judicial killings and discrimination. Williams said while the US may not have actually come forward and signed on to the call for a probe at the Geneva forum, it believes all abuses “in total, wherever it  is, whether it is phantom squad, or anything else” should be investigated. She said that the torture of a teen boy at the Leonora Police Station last year remains an issue that is of great concern to the US.

Williams, who has been at the helm of the Embassy since last year after illness cut short the tenure of Ambassador John Jones, also said that there are no plans to open a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office here. “[There are] a lot of factors to have a US DEA office opened and we don’t have the full set of parameters in place to be able to do so,” she said, while adding that she thought it would be a good step.

The Government of Guyana has frequently criticised the US for not providing money for the drug fight on the local front while sharing little in the way of intelligence. Williams said there is very little funding for crime and security in the Caribbean and she pointed out that the priority for the Georgetown mission is humanitarian assistance and that is where the vast majority of funding goes. She added that there is a mutual assistance agreement and information sharing is done with no involvement of the Embassy. “So I don’t always see when there is an information request and the vast majority of times I don’t see a request,” she explained, adding, “But I do know the ones that I have seen and the ones I have followed up. There has been information given, but sometimes there is no information to give or there is a pre-requisite that requires a subpoena from a judge in the US that it is not possible to share it,” Williams said. She was also cautious when asked why Guyanese wanted in the US have been nabbed in Trinidad instead of on local soil and why information about Guyanese fugitives is not being sent to government, saying the issues were all before her time.

Asked about what remains the most challenging issue of cooperation between the two countries, she said capacity. “Sometimes we have to remind ourselves like when we have a large ship come in and there are 2,000 people on that ship that is more people than the Government of Guyana has, not in total, but when we are talking about working with the Ministry of Health in those clinics… we are kind of overwhelming,” she explained.
MCC
Meanwhile, Williams called the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Threshold Programme a success, saying Guyana has seen good results. Williams explained that the programme was able to help the finance ministry to become computerised and cut down the number of processing days for establishing a business in Guyana, among other areas crucial to economic development.

The MCC was created by the US Congress in January 2004 and according to its website it is changing the conversation on how best to deliver smart US foreign assistance by focusing on good policies, country ownership, and results. The MCC forms partnerships with some of the world’s poorest countries, but only those committed to good governance, economic freedom and investments in their citizens. It provides the well-performing countries with large-scale grants to fund country-led solutions for reducing poverty through sustainable economic growth. The grants complement other US and international development programmes, with two primary types of grants—“compacts” and “threshold” programmes.”

According to Williams, the indicators of good governance, economic freedom and investments in the citizenry are drawn from a variety of international sources. She also explained that funding under the MCC is left up to a committee board that meets in Washington and they look at the indicators each year to determine whether a country will receive funding. “It is a worldwide competition basically,” she said, while observing that there were no new compacts issued at all last year. “The board decided not to issue any so it is not a case of you meet a minimum criteria and you get it. It’s a competition and the board sits there and…” looks at what funds are there; looks at the state of all the different indicators and other factors and then the board decides as a whole.” She said no one at any embassy can predict how a nation is going to do.
Domestic violence
Williams said the rising level of domestic violence as reported in the news is something she “found most sad. At the same time, I realise that the fact that I am reading about this every day; that is a good thing; that is an initial step in being able to do something and change attitudes.”

She added that she was assured by a wide spectrum of Guyanese that domestic violence is not a new issue in this country but it is only now being publicised and talked about. “I think that is good. It is important to talk about it in order to be able to do anything about it and I think the campaign that the [Ministry of Human Services] is putting on to try and fight domestic violence and to raise awareness [is a good one],” she noted.

She pointed out domestic violence affects women as well as men and children. As a result, she described it as a societal rather than gender issue. Williams noted that all societies have experienced the problem, including the US. In this regard, she said, the US has reached a stage where people talked openly about it and policemen were made more aware of the ramifications and that action had to be taken. “Across the societal spectrum we became a don’t just hush it up, do something about it, get the people out of harm’s way and press charges and get help for those who are perpetrating violence,” she said.

She said while it would be a tough fight for Guyana it is one that has to be fought and the US is looking at ways it can assist Guyana. Although there is no specific funding to address the problem, the Embassy has offered to assist the Human Services Ministry in various areas.

Specialised
human resources

Williams also said she felt privileged to have been involved the US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Reduction (PEPFAR) programme in Guyana. According to her, the highlight was the opening of the US$4.4 million reference laboratory that was built with assistance from USAID. It was opened in July 2008.

Asked whether she considered the money used to build the lab as being well spent, Williams responded positively. She said specialised human resources continues to be a challenge in Guyana, while adding that she is not at the facility on a day-to-day basis and could not say whether it is being fully utilised.

The lab still cannot undertake some tests and these have to be sent overseas. “But I will say when I have been there, such as for the one year anniversary, and we did a tour of the facility, there are still some challenges of finding the right human resources and you all know that specialized human resources are a challenge in the country. But overall, what I saw did indicate that this is a facility that is being used properly, that is actually in active use…” Williams said.

The PEPFAR programme is part of the overall humanitarian programme from the US and she described it as the “big thing and the number one priority for the embassy.” Williams said it was through this programme that she was able to see many parts of Guyana, including Mahdia, Port Kaituma, Corriverton, Linden and Lethem.

According to Williams, since the programme began in Guyana in 2003 in excess of US$100 million was spent. When questioned about what future funding would be like for Guyana under the programme, she said “the amounts are congressional and they can shift from year to year.”

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