Insurance companies are violating customers’ human rights

Dear Editor,

It is totally unacceptable that insurance companies are now forcing prospective customers to declare their political affiliation on a Customer Verification Form, because this is a flagrant violation of every citizen’s right to freedom of association as enshrined in the founding charter of the United Nations (UN).

Guyana is a member of the UN and officially recognises the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means Guyana has an obligation to protect and promote human rights, including Article 20, section (1), which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”.

Freedom of association means individuals enjoy the intrinsic right to form and join groups of their choice without interference or penalties. One of the most effective ways of protecting this right is to give persons the choice to keep their membership of such groups private. One sure way to violate this right is to compel persons to disclose such affiliations.

Local insurance companies are now abusing this right by taking away their choice to keep their associations and affiliations private, and forcing them to reveal their relationship with government officials, military officials, politicians and political parties. What many people do not realise is that this is done under threat, because customers of insurance companies are required to affirm that the information they provide on the form is true and correct, which unmistakably implies that they will be penalized for giving false information.

I reject the insurance companies’ claim that the requirement is linked to the 2015 AMLCFT Amendment Act and regulations with regard to “Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs)” who can abuse their influence to commit crimes, or their close relatives and associates can do so.

In effect, they are illegally treating every prospective customer as a PEP or relative or close associate of one, but the Act clearly does not provide for this. If it did, as respected attorney-at-law Christopher Ram pointed out, it would have violated the Constitution and the law.

I believe it is dangerous to let insurance companies interpret the Act arbitrarily and for their own advantage. Insurance company representative, Paul Braam reportedly referred to “due diligence” under the Act and a “judgement call” about how close are “close relatives”.

Insurance companies are already allowed reasonable grounds to discriminate against potential and actual customers on the basis of such things as medical conditions, vehicle accident history etc, and they use this to raise premiums and protect their business interests. That is why I think they are using the AMLCFT Act to violate people’s human rights for a  purely selfish reason. When they get personal information to which they are not entitled, they will use this information to reduce their ‘actuarial risk’ and potentially increase their profits.

What do you think the insurance companies will do with the information they get about people’s family connections to PEPs or links to political parties? The answer is simple: The same as they do with all customers’ personal information: let their actuaries use it to assess and reduce the insurance company’s business risks.

Ask yourself: Where else in the world would insurance companies be allowed to get away with using an anti-money laundering Act to violate an enshrined UN human right? I am sure your answer will be: Nowhere else in the world.

It should not be done here either. Guyana has to stamp out this nonsense as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,

Roshan Khan Sr

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