Human rights body welcomes move for judicial reform
Review of police shootings over last 20 years to be published
Stabroek News
February 8, 2002

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) intends to make submissions to the Judicial Reform Committee on the issues of alternative and inconsistent sentencing, as well as support the abolition of preliminary inquiries in order to expedite the work of the courts.

A GHRA press release yesterday said that the association's executive committee at its quarterly meeting last Saturday welcomed the creation of the Judicial Reform Committee by the Chancellor of the Judiciary as an "opportunity to address some long-standing problems."

The release disclosed too that the GHRA plans to publish shortly a Review of Police Shootings over the past 20 years and the meeting also discussed this upcoming publication.

Further, the meeting explored ways in which the association can start monitoring essential services, following up on resolutions passed at its Annual General Meeting last December. Focusing on the role of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), it was agreed that the GHRA would explore ways to support the work of the consumer groups in making public representation at hearings. The human rights body will continue to observe these hearings, the release stated.

The association also discussed its concerns over the vulnerability of young people to abuse, especially girl children, in the context of the failure of the courts to adequately protect them.

The meeting welcomed the announcement that the Ministry of Education will deepen the truancy campaign to address the link between truancy and the sexual abuse of children. Moreover, the association remains concerned about protecting the identities of children involved in the campaign, the release noted.

Outrage was expressed at the meeting over the High Court decision to effectively block any further action on the death of Mohammed Shafeek at the hands of the police. Last year, a coroner's jury had come back with a verdict that the police were responsible for Shafeek's demise. This verdict was later quashed in the High Court. According to the release, both the substance and the procedural aspects of the High Court judgement to quash the verdict should be the source of grave public concern.

The release observed that the holding of inquests has always required extraordinary pressure, and judgements of this nature only serve as a further disincentive.

"As the principal legal mechanism available to deter excessive use of force, discontinuing the practice or suppressing the verdicts of inquests gives a blank cheque to elements in the Police Force inclined to extra-judicial execution," the GHRA asserted.

And since the judgement seems to exhaust domestic remedies, the next step, the GHRA said, would be to have this matter taken to the UN Human Rights Committee.

The meeting also reviewed the recent mini-bus protests and the executive lamented the absence of effective organization and representation of mini-bus operators through which industrial disputes could be resolved. Without such mechanisms, the association posited, the travelling public is vulnerable to political opportunists confusing the situation for their own ends.