Guyanese-born UN Assistant Secretary-General publishes book
Explores relationship between rule of law, development By George Barclay
Guyana Chronicle
January 20, 2002

GUYANESE author, Dr. B. G. Ramcharan, has underscored the necessity of the rule of law for the achievement of development in poor countries. He has stressed too, the fact that a breakdown of law and order has been responsible for the impoverishment of states.

Dr. Ramcharan, LL.M, Ph.D., Barrister-at-law (Lincoln’s Inn), United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, explored the relationship between law and order and development in his latest book, ‘The Guyana Court of Appeal: The Challenges of the Rule of Law in a Developing Country’.

“This book is one of the few studies of how the Rule of Law has fared in a developing country since it achieved independence. (It) will be of immense interest to scholars of international law, comparative law, human rights, politics and constitutional law,” Dr. Ramcharan told the Chronicle in an interview recently.

He was in Guyana to publicise the 187-page book and left for Switzerland earlier this month.

“In this study, we have set out a people’s historic quest for freedom during the times of slavery and of indentured labour. We showed how the vindication of human rights was a battle cry of the struggle for independence”.

The early chapters of the book deal with the “stresses and strains to which constitutional government and the maintenance of democracy were submitted during three of the four decades in the history of the country …”

“Against this background, we set out the place of the Court of Appeal, the highest court in the land, under the Constitution of 1980.

“From the evidence presented and the cases examined, we have seen problems that surfaced shortly after independence in maintaining integrity in the constitution and membership of the Court. Alas, these problems of integrity and propriety in the constitution of the Court would recur even at the end of the fourth decade, when, in 2000, the Bar Association would agitate over the fact that the President had not followed the recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission as mandated by the Constitution. In this sense, the travails of the rule of law are, alas, still not over,” the author noted.

“This study has shown that after 1980, the courts were called upon to function under a Constitution that was brought in through a fraudulent referendum. The Court of Appeal was thus required to uphold the rule of law in a situation of fundamental illegality.

According to Dr Ramcharan, the Court has never addressed this issue, which presents a “conundrum” for the rule of law.

“If the constitutional ground-norm is legally invalid, can, or should, the courts challenge the very illegal ground-norm from which they derive their existence? This is an issue that lawyers interested in the rule of law would need to reflect upon deeply,” he said.

Noting that the state of the legal profession during the period under examination presented a picture that was not an “edifying one”, the author also pointed out that the Bar Association still has only a draft code of conduct. He said it is not clear what the regulatory authority of the legal profession is.

“It would be fair to say that with regard to the criminal law, one saw the brilliance of local judges and the majesty of the law in operation. One could also see the brilliance of the legal profession through the cases dealing with the criminal law, the law of contracts, the law of torts, and property law. When it came, however, to the protection of fundamental rights, one cannot avoid the impression that the individual was left to the whims of the Court.

“The application of international human rights law by the Court of Appeal has hardly even begun. While one has seen cases where the Court based itself on international law generally, as regards prison conditions and standards of fair trial, voices on the Court of Appeal have argued for the standard of what the country could afford. There is no evidence of the Courts insisting on the application of international standards in defence of fundamental human rights. This is a cause for serious concern,” he said.

The author also referred to what he termed “bewildering behaviour” by some members of the legal profession, adding that “in the midst of all this, the law reports of Guyana were last published in 1975 and, for the past 25 years, the decisions of the courts, including the Court of Appeal, are largely inaccessible.

“It was partly to remedy this deficiency that we set out at the beginning of this work a list of the notable cases of the Court of Appeal containing those decisions that were selected by its staff for binding and eventual publication. This is a distressing situation for a country that aspires to the rule of law.

“Notwithstanding all of this, it is important, in our submission, to identify and build upon those strands in the jurisprudence of the Court of Appeal that can be built upon, in the future, to provide the foundations for the rule of law and respect for human rights. That has been a principal aim of this introductory study,” Dr Ramcharan emphasised.

The book’s contents include such topics as selected decisions of the Guyana Court of Appeal - 1966 - 2000; the Independence struggle by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the role of the Guyana Court of Appeal and the protection of rights by R. H. Luckhoo.

Dr. Ramcharan is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. He has been the UN’s Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights since 1998.

A Barrister with a Doctorate in Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science, he has been Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists and also Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

He has taught as Adjunct Professor of International Human Rights law at Colombia University and has written or edited more than 15 books. His books include ‘Caribbean Perspectives on International Law and Organisations’. Others are on the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Early Warning and Preventive Diplomacy; The International Law Commission; The Right to Life, Human Rights Fact-Finding; The United Nations Secretary-General; and the Concept and Present Status of International Protection of Human Rights.

He has the prestigious Diploma in International Law from The Hague Academy of International Law, where he has also been Director of Studies.

During his diverse career of three decades at the United Nations, he has served in the Centre for Human Rights as Special Assistant, as the Secretary-General’s Chief Speech-writer, as Director in the largest-ever United Nations peacekeeping operations (in Yugoslavia), as adviser to the peace negotiators dealing in the Yugoslav conflict (for four years), and as a Director dealing with African conflicts.

He has also served as a judge of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (The Hague).

Dr. Ramcharan was born in Diamond, East Bank Demerara and grew up at Windsor Forest, West Coast Demerara. He was admitted to practice at the Bar of Guyana in 1969, before Justice J. A. Van Sertima, having been introduced by Senior Counsel Lloyd Luckhoo.