Ruling in tortured teen case ‘a real breakthrough’

– human rights body co-chair

Co-Chair of the Guyana Human Rights Association Mike McCormack says the judiciary could be the avenue through which international human rights laws are interpreted and enforced, and he praised the recent ruling of Justice Roxane George in the case of the tortured teen.

“It’s a real breakthrough. There was also the issue of accountability and the number of persons who could have been implicated and properly sued,” McCormack said of the ruling.

International human rights law can be useful in re-energising domestic law, McCormack opined, noting that the practice of the law here can become routine to the point where the quality of judgments drop.

Justice George described the case of the 14-year-old whose genitals were burnt in a police station in 2009 as constituting torture and she ruled on Friday that there had been a violation of his fundamental human rights; awarding damages to the teen in the sum of $6.5 million.

Well-placed sources told Stabroek News yesterday that government intends to appeal the ruling, but when this newspaper contacted state counsel, Naresh Haranan he said no decision to appeal has been made by Attorney General, Charles Ramson.

Haranan made submissions on behalf of the AG in the case and according to him the AG was notified of the decision but is yet to communicate whether the state will compensate the teen or appeal the decision.

Referring to the judgment as important, McCormack said it indicates that the judiciary can be vigorous in interpreting international law and also confident in applying the law even when states fail to enforce it at the executive level. Guyana, like many other countries, is signatory to a string of international treaties, he said, noting the laws are often not enforced.

International law is often criticized as being weak for the same reason, he said, explaining that states are expected to enforce the treaties which are not legally binding. But he observed that domestic law is expected to be compatible with international law when states ratify human rights treaties.

McCormack continued that judges may be able to resort to international laws to provide remedies for abuses such as the conduct of the medical doctor in the case. He said the doctor escaped with a “slap on the wrist” despite his actions towards the teen, adding that such conduct points to the lack of standards being allowed.

“It would be a shame if the state appeals this ruling given the very public nature, the record which shows the treatment meted out, the lack of responsibility and the conduct of the medical practitioner in this case,” McCormack added.

In her ruling, Justice George resorted to international human rights law and treaties and cited Article 39 (2) of the Constitution which stated: “In the interpretation of the fundamental rights provisions in this Constitution a court shall pay due regard to international law, international conventions, covenants and charters bearing on human rights”. She also cited Article 154 in this respect and then adverted to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which are encompassed in the fourth schedule referred to by the article.

She also observed that a failure on the part of the judiciary to uphold human rights norms would amount to a failure to live up to its international obligations.

“It is clear that the incorporated international human rights provisions in Guyana are not merely persuasive and that the judiciary has to be constantly cognizant of these provisions. This specific mandate gives the court jurisdiction and makes it an obligation of the court to incorporate international human rights law into the domestic law of Guyana when interpreting the rights provisions of the constitution. It is a mandate and jurisdiction which must be taken seriously and actively applied where relevant,” the judge declared.

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