The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) said yesterday that Justice Roxane George’s ruling in the teenager torture case now challenges the Medical Council of Guyana to review its treatment of the matter.
Last week, Justice George awarded $6.5 million compensation against the Attorney General and two police officers and found that the teen had been tortured and his fundamental human rights flagrantly violated. The 15 year-old boy was brutally tortured while in police custody, and his lawyer had filed a civil suit against the state.
The GHRA said too that the ruling served to demonstrate the value to citizens of international human rights laws and treaties. Its co-chair Mike McCormack had weighed earlier this week, calling the ruling a real breakthrough and noting that the judiciary could be the avenue through which international human rights laws are interpreted and enforced.
In a press release, the GHRA said the domestic criminal courts had failed the family of the child as no one – neither the direct perpetrators in the persons of the three police officers who allegedly committed the crime – nor the accomplices after the fact who covered it up, including the medical doctor, had been found guilty of any criminal offence.
The criminal case against the officers, the release pointed out, was dismissed on the grounds that witnesses continuously failed to attend court. It noted that although the civil judgment provides a measure of financial compensation to the youth and his family from the State – assuming the Attorney-General does not appeal–no individual has been found guilty.
According to the release, Justice George based her judgment substantially on the human rights commitments assumed by Guyana as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“By doing so she demonstrated in practice what is frequently confused in discussions, namely, how international human rights law becomes part of the domestic administration of justice,” the release said.
The GHRA suggested that the judge may seek guidance in the general principles of international law, as accepted by the community of nations. From these sources, the judge then declares what the relevant rule of domestic law is.
It said that apart from the benefits accruing to this particular case, Justice George’s application of international human rights law challenges the lack of vigorous, principled professionalism beyond the confines of the court.
“The Medical Council, for example is challenged to review its treatment of this case with a view to protecting itself from charges of unprofessional conduct in the future. The doctor who failed to protect the child in question suffered nothing more than a slap on the wrist,” the release noted.
It said that by underlining the seriousness with which torture is viewed from a human rights perspective, Justice George has reinforced the message that – like the slave-trader before him – the torturer is an enemy of all mankind.
Meanwhile, the release quoted a section of the Bangalore Principles, which it said is an authoritative statement encapsulating the modern approach to international law, as saying: “It is the action of the judge, incorporating the rule into international law, which makes it part of domestic law.”
Further, the GHRA pointed out that the international community has come to recognize the dangers posed by the flagrant disregard for human rights, particularly the right to be free from torture. It said, spurred by the atrocities of the First and Second World Wars, civilized nations banded together to produce the United Nations system and the development of international human rights. And towards the end of the century the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Central Africa prompted further determination to curb torture. These trends have prompted the creation of regional and international courts to bring war-mongering torturers to justice.
“In addition, local perpetrators who operate with impunity should take note of the growing practice of pursuing individuals associated with gross violations of human rights in other national courts, such as the charging of the Chilean dictator General Pinochet by the UK courts,” the release said.
Locally, the GHRA said, the enforcement mechanisms of international Human Rights Law are not vigorously pursued, although such laws are legally binding.
It said the courts are too frequently deterred in embracing international law by a perception that this may not sit well with the Executive branch of government.
“This disregard for international human rights law by the Guyana Government, particularly in death penalty cases, has been regularly manifest in dismissive and disrespectful refusal to be bound by decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee,” GHRA noted in the release.
According to the GHRA human rights victories in the courts of many countries remain symbolic, in that damages from the State are often difficult to collect.
However, the effectiveness of the shame associated with such proceedings when adequately publicized has a deterrent effect.