The Guyana Human Rights association (GHRA) is strongly recommending that the Parliamentary Office suspend the current process of re-populating the ‘rights’ Commissions until an impartial review of their performance over the past seven years has been done.
In a statement on Friday to mark International Human Rights Day on Sunday, the GHRA also strongly reiterated its opposition to any attempt to create a Guyana Human Rights Commission on the basis of what it said was the current “bizarre” formula reflected in Article 212 of the Constitution.
It said that International Human Rights Day 2017 finds Guyana still without a Commission on Human Rights.
“It is evident that the substantial section of the population seeking reform of our ramshackle and decrepit political structures seem likely to remain disappointed. A more promising prospect than a formal constitutional reform process might be creation of a civic-driven constitutional reform movement to elaborate the needed reforms and subsequently to seek political party endorsement of them. A high priority among such reforms would be the re-formulation of the entire section dealing with the ‘rights’ Commissions”, GHRA stated.
It said that contrary to popular opinion the mechanisms known as ‘rights’ Commissions produced by the constitutional reform process of 1999-2000 have neither the mandate, competence nor powers essential to any bona fide rights mechanism. The GHRA said that of fourteen ”functions” listed for the Women and Gender Rights Commission, only one refers to women’s rights and only one of the nine in the case of the Indigenous Peoples Commission.
“Moreover, their capacity to advance the cause of human rights is hamstrung by byzantine inter-locking structures and no powers of enforcement. Heads of thematic rights Commissions, – Women & Gender, Children’s Rights, Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Relations – despite not being elected by reference to their interest or track-record as human rights defenders, constitute the proposed membership of the Human Rights Commission. It is difficult to see how a credible Human Rights Commission could emerge from theses dysfunctional and convoluted arrangements”, the GHRA said.
It argued that like many of the more progressive recommendations from the Constitutional Reform Commission of 1999-2000, the ‘Rights Commissions’ were diminished and distorted by the subsequent Parliamentary Oversight Committee. It said that the confused thinking reflected in the mechanisms themselves seems also to have infected the numbering system adopted for the rights Section of the Constitution all captured under one Section, 212,with sub-sections that run from 212 “A” to 212 “Z”, then on to “AA,” “BB” et, over thirty pages.
The GHRA added that nothing was done to implement this section of the Constitution until a Presidential ‘Stakeholder ‘consultation was held in 2008 aimed at securing civic backing for a large-scale Security programme. In return for civic support, the GHRA said that the Government agreed to implement the rights Commissions. Following that consultation, a separate civic process yielded a Submission to the Appointive Committee of Parliament which was ratified by over 60 organizations, setting out the modifications demanded by civil society to the rights Com-missions prior to their implementation. These recommendations were neither acknowledged nor acted upon, GHRA said.
In 2009 the GHRA said that the Rights Commission were activated through a process conceived by the Parliamentary Office which saw a broad range of organizations without clear criteria as to eligibility invited to nominate members of the Commissions.
“We do not wish to suggest that the Parliamentary Office did not strive to be fair and inclusive, but it was clearly unfamiliar with and ill-equipped to undertake the task it was mandated to complete”, the GHRA stated.
The human rights body said that the civic consultation process referred to earlier represented the kind of constitutional reform movement that appears to be needed at the present time and that the end result of such a process would hopefully be a Human Rights Commission endowed with the needs, capacities and resources to advance human rights in Guyana. It said that to encourage such thinking the GHRA is offering to make the Submission to Parliament and list of endorsing organizations better known by making them available upon e-mail requests to email@example.com. The Sub-mission was entitled Forum on Effectiveness & Solidarity (FES) Submission to (1) the Appointive Committee of Parliament and (2) the Parliamentary Com-mittee on Constitutional Reform on Implementation of Stake-holder Recommendations June 2008.