Afro-Guyanese continuing to experience racism, discrimination

-UN experts find

After a five-day “fact-finding” visit to Guyana, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has voiced concern over the human rights of Guyanese of African descent, who it says continue to experience racism and racial discrimination despite some efforts that have been made to address the situation.

Noted among the efforts made were the formation of the Guyana Reparations Committee, the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to look into ancestral land matters and the implementation of President David Granger’s ‘Five Bs’ Initiative, which provides boats, buses, bicycles, breakfast and books to school children.

Presenting preliminary findings along with 36 accompanying recommendations at the conclusion of their visit yesterday were Sabelo Gumedze (of South Africa), Michal Balcerzak (Poland) and Ahmed Reid (Jamaica), who chaired a briefing at the United Nations Development Programme’s office.

“The working group studied the official measures taken and mechanisms to prevent systemic racial discrimination and to protect victims of racism, as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination,” a statement provided by the group read.

Visits were made to Georgetown, Linden and Buxton, and consultations were done at the ministerial level and at the level of the civil society and regional democratic councils.

“The people of African descent all over the world are a victim group because of what happened in the past and we should acknowledge that. And as we have offered solutions to some of the challenges that Guyana is facing, we do hope and are positive that those recommendations will be taken on board, not only to polarise but to address some of the challenges that Guyana is facing,” Gumedze stated.

Members of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (seated). From left are Ahmed Reid, Sabelo Gumedze and Michal Balcerzak.

Some of the findings of the preliminary report are: that there are “serious deficiencies in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights” by people of African descent; that persons of African descent are largely impacted by racial profiling by the Guyana Police force; there has been failure to investigate and provide justice in extra-judicial killings, particularly when Afro-Guyanese have been the target; that women of African descent face inequalities and multiple forms of discrimination because of their race, colour, gender and religious beliefs; and that the school curricula do not accurately reflect the contributions and history of people of African descent.

‘Without delay’

Noting that the prevention of racial discrimination is “enshrined in the constitution,” the group noted that while the 2003 revised constitution made for the appointment of institutions such as the Human Rights Commission and the Ethnic Relations Commission, the aforementioned are not functional.

As a result, among the recommendations were that these two commissions be “constituted without further delay” and that they be equipped with the necessary resources and powers to carry out their mandates.

The group also recommended the adoption of a National Action Plan against racial discrimination, with focus on structural racial discrimination, legislative reforms, accountability and the enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation in line with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Furthermore, it was recommended that the government work with civil society organisations in framing legislation pertaining to people of African descent, and also urged that they continue to play an active role in seeking reparatory justice for Afro-Guyanese.

Speaking to cultural identity, the group suggested that history be mandatory at both the primary and secondary levels, “thereby giving children of African descent a connection with their past and a sense of cultural identity,” and that a special curriculum recognising certain aspects of history such as the transatlantic trade be incorporated into both formal and informal educational teachings, at all educational levels.

It was also recommended that memorials be established to honour persons of African descent who have been victims of tragedies, with specific mention of sites of memory being established in Linden to mark the events of 1964 and 2012.

In the economic sphere, it was suggested that development funds be established to empower persons of African descent who “have been left behind” and that steps be taken to allow increased accessibility of affordable loans to businesspersons of African descent.

Many of the human rights issued outlined, though addressed specifically to persons of African descent, fit within general human rights laws, such as access to healthcare, having prisons and detention centers that meet international standards, and the right to an adequate standard of living.

“We are not a judicial body, but when we make recommendations, we are very positive that States and governments will take our recommendations forward because the issue of human rights is very critical to every state. The issue of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia and other related intolerance happens all over the world and States are the ones that have to play a critical role in ensuring that these social ills do not occur,” Gumedze said.

It was related that the group is still welcoming submissions from organisations and the government toward completing the report.

The final report will be presented in the mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September, 2018.


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