Despite calls last month in Geneva, Switzerland for Guyana to take action to end discriminatory practices against LGBT persons it appears that any such steps will have to await a new Parliament.
Guyana’s human rights record was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva under the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Numerous recommendations were made for Guyana to repeal all provisions that discriminate against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly those which criminalise consensual adult same-sex relations as well as to combat all forms of discrimination and abuse against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-gender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons. Other recommendation on this topic urged Guyana to guarantee to LGBTI persons the full enjoyment under equal conditions of their human rights, through the abolishment of the norms that criminalize and stigmatize them and the investigation and sanction of cases of violence or discrimination motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity as well as to amend Article 149 of the Guyana Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Guyana was also urged to amend its national legislation in order to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds of non-discrimination as well as to investigate incidents or acts of violence motivated by homophobia or transphobia and bring to justice those responsible for such acts. Guyana will examine these recommendations and provide an answer by June. Many of these same issues were raised at Guyana’s earlier UPR in 2010.
On Wednesday, at a press conference to report on Guyana’s presentation in Geneva, Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett defended the government’s record.
She said that the government has in fact led the way when asked by the Stabroek News whether the government had done enough to decriminalise same sex-relationships aside from recent explanations that society was divided on the matter and Parliament was suspended.
Recapping the UPR presentation, the minister said that those explanations are still very much relevant. She said that since the 2010 UPR a Parliamentary Special Select Committee was established to review decriminalisation of same-sex relationships and corporal punishment in school. Rodrigues-Birkett said that the select committee first met and discussed corporal punishment which was seen as the least controversial and the opinions were extremely varied. She said that as a result greater societal dialogue was needed.
Critics have said that the government should take the lead on this matter considering the universality of views on human rights matters such as corporal punishment rather than seeking an easy way out through consultations.
Apart from the wide consultation that was still required on same-sex relations the minister stated that Guyana would need to fully implement the Sexual Offences Act which continues to be a struggle. During Guyana’s presentation in Geneva on January 28, Rodrigues-Birkett had stated that to fully comply with the 2010 and the 2015 recommendations on the LGTBI community Guyana would need to repeal sections of the Criminal Offences Act, and the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act and amend the Prevention of Discrimination Act.
During the UPR, the minister did speak about the work of the select committee, however this has been focused primarily on corporal punishment. The committee commenced its work in November of 2012 but there is yet to be a final position.
Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira at the Wednesday press briefing stated that due to the current political climate and the prorogation of Parliament the work done by the various select committees will cease once Parliament dissolves and new elections are held.
Rodrigues-Birkett responded to the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination’s (SASOD) criticisms in its June 15th 2014 submission to the UN Human Rights Council on LGBTI Rights in Guyana. She had stated that the government does not discriminate against persons based on sexual orientation, adding that the government was unaware of the multiple references made in SASOD’s submission with regards to discrimination in employment. She noted that the issues brought up by SASOD were never referred to the Chief Labour Officer nor the Public Service Commission.
When the LGBTI matters came up at the 2010 UPR, the Guyana Government pointed out that the 2003 attempt to include “sexual orientation” under constitutional protections failed to receive the support of the National Assembly.
“Despite this, there is no discrimination by the state against persons based on their sexual orientation. Guyana does not deny that there may be interpersonal prejudices based on cultural attitudes and religious views,” the government said adding, “No case of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation has been brought to the courts, nor is there any known report before any of the human rights commissions or the [PCA], nor any reported violence targeting persons based on their sexual orientation.”