UN concerned about fewer Indo-Guyanese in police force
--Calls for prompt inquiries into alleged extra-judicial killings
November 27, 2006
The United Nations (UN) Committee against Torture is concerned about the reduced presence of persons of Indo-Guyanese origin in the police force, which it said would appear to be among the causes of the high number of deaths in custody of persons of Indo-Guyanese origin.
The committee on Friday concluded a three-week session and issued its concluding observations and recommendations on reports from Tajikistan, Mexico, Burundi, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Guyana and Hungary, which it reviewed during the session.
In its report on Guyana, the Committee stated that the government should take effective steps to guarantee the accountability of the police force and urged that immediate measures be put in place to prevent acts such as the alleged practice of extra-judicial killings by police members.
The Discipline Force's Report (DFC) had recommended that the police force change its recruitment drive to attract a wider cross-section of ethnicities, since it realised that the present Afro-Guyanese dominated police force was creating some problems.
The DFC report was submitted during the Eighth Parliament and was sent to a Special Select Committee for a review of its contents before it was accepted by the 65-member Parliament.
Since the Eighth Parliament ended in May, a new Committee will now have to be appointed to examine the report although the older Committee had completed the review of the section that dealt with the police force.
The UN report also called for prompt and impartial inquires into alleged extra-judicial killings.
Former Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj had faced the heat of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into his alleged involvement in a killing squad, widely believed to have carried out a number the killings of suspected criminals during the immediate period following a prison break by five inmates in 2002.
The Commission led by Justice of Appeal Ian Chang reported that there was no evidence to suggest that Gajraj, who is now Guyana's High Commissioner to India, had directed the squad, but Gajraj was forced to resign following immense pressure from local groups and the international community.
The recent UN Committee report also reminded Guyana of the absolute nature of the prohibition to expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
In this regard, the Committee expressed concern about reports on the excessive length of pre-trial detention, which could occasionally last between three and four years.
The disciplinary measures used in the treatment of prisoners were another matter of concern, in particular Section 37 of the Prison Act, 1998, which allowed whipping, flogging and reduction of diet.
The Committee was particularly concerned about reports of widespread police brutality, the use of force and firearms by the police, as well as the lack of accountability of the Guyana Police Force.
In its recommendations, the UN Committee urged Government to take effective steps to guarantee the accountability of the police force and urged it to take immediate steps to prevent acts such as the alleged practice of extra-judicial killings by members of the police.
In that regard, the Committee stated that Guyana should guarantee that prompt and impartial inquiries were conducted, perpetrators were prosecuted and effective remedies were provided to victims.
The Committee recommended that Guyana raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 years of age to an internationally acceptable level, as already recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Government was also urged to take effective and comprehensive measures to combat sexual violence in the country through establishing and promoting an effective mechanism for receiving complaints of sexual violence, including in custodial facilities.
The UN Committee also recommended that Government ensure that law enforcement personnel were instructed on the absolute prohibition of violence and rape in custody as a form of torture, as well as trained to deal with charges of sexual violence.
The establishment of a monitoring mechanism to investigate and deal with cases of sexual violence in the country was also recommended as a necessary step in combating sexual violence.
In its concluding observations on the initial report of Guyana, the Committee acknowledged the ongoing efforts of the government to reform its legal and institutional system.
In particular, it noted with satisfaction Guyana's ratification of most of the core international human rights treaties, as well as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the recent efforts made to reform and strengthen the national legislative base.
The Committee lauded the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2005; the Witness Protection Bill of May 2006; the Mutual Cooperation in Criminal Matters Bill of April 2006; and the Justice Protection Bill of May 2006.
Guyana is among 142 States that are party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The states are bound by the terms of the treaty to submit periodic reports on efforts to ensure that such human rights violations do not occur on their territories. In addition to submitting the reports, the countries sent delegations before the Committee of 10 independent experts to answer questions.
The Committee against Torture was established pursuant to Article 17 of the Convention to monitor its implementation.