Guyana should adopt international standards of human rights

Dear Editor,

A denial of human rights is tantamount to a crime against humanity, which is oftentimes clothed in the verbiage of intolerance and religious views. For the most part, human rights were, and historically have been inalienable, fundamental and independent social principles. All human beings, particularly Guyanese, deserve to be treated with dignity, tolerance and respect.

Firstly, human rights are the bedrock for the achievement of social and economic development. According to Shale Horowitz and Albrecht Schnabel (2004) of the United Nations University, “Human rights violations are often particularly severe in societies that are undergoing significant political, social, and economic transformations.

Improving human rights practices in transition societies should therefore be a central goal for domestic reformers and the international community.” This makes sense not only because of the intrinsic value of improved human rights protection for Guyanese, but also because of the indirect effects that such improvements have on democratization, economic development, and conflict resolution.

Guyana has already signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments, and most of these rights have been enshrined in our Constitution. More specifically, Article 147 of the Constitution provides for the protection of the fundamental rights of citizens: freedom of speech, freedom of association, and all others.

In addition, since Guyana has a history infringing and encroaching on the fundamental rights of disadvantaged and minority groups such as women and the LGBT community with its archaic and primitive laws, it gives more credence to the argument that the country should adopt the human rights best practices of the world, especially where addressing the issue of discrimination is concerned.

According to the US Department of State 2015 Human Rights Report, “The US is still concerned about police brutality, forced labour, violence and the discrimination the LGBT community continue to face.”

Furthermore, recognising human rights according to international standards will undoubtedly foster greater social cohesion and inclusivity among the peoples of Guyana, irrespective of race, sex, creed, religion, age or even sexual orientation. In his address to the Parliament on May 12, 2016, President David Granger posited that, “We can construct a more cohesive society by doing more to enforce employment and anti-discrimination laws in order to guarantee the health, happiness and safety of our working people, our women and our children.” He went further to say that, “Social cohesion is about fostering greater integration in our nation. Integration can increase a sense of belonging. It can give recognition to all groups and to allow them to freely practise their culture.”

I believe social cohesion should not just be about unifying the communities of Indo and Afro Guyanese. It should also be about fighting exclusion and marginalization. It should include promoting social, gender and reproductive justice. It should exhibit the spirit of finding common ground, and working together for the sustained advancement of the lives of all Guyanese. Moreover, the laws of Guyana must be able to facilitate this. The laws should be progressive and open to social change.

In conclusion, it would be a failure and an indictment of Guyana and its people if international standards of human rights are not adopted. It stands to reason therefore, that these best practices should be copied since they incubate social and economic development; they would be a guide to remedy the encroachment on citizens’ rights by primitive laws; and most importantly they foster social cohesion.

It was Nelson Mandela who once said that, “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” How long must Guyana continue to challenge the humanity of its people?

Yours faithfully,

Kobe J Smith

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