Police killings spoil generally favourable US human rights report
Stabroek News
February 27, 2004

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The Guyana government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in 2003, says a US State Department report, which, however, notes several extra-judicial killings and makes passing reference to reports of a phantom squad.

The Human Rights Practices report, which comes out every year, was issued on Wednesday and while observing that there were no reports of political killings, says "police continued to commit unlawful killings.

Police operating with 'impunity'
"The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA)...reported that the security forces killed 39 civilians during the year, compared with 28 in 2002. In most cases, the police shot the victims while attempting to arrest them or while a crime was being committed. Thirteen of the killings occurred during joint GPF/GDF operations to counter the rampant criminal activities of bandits centred in the village of Buxton. Public investigations rarely were conducted into such killings; in general, police abuses were committed with impunity. The Constitution broadly defines justifiable use of lethal force."

The report also lists some of the more notable cases:

"On January 18, police shot and killed Charles Hinckson and Marlon Wilson in a bathroom stall after they reportedly committed a robbery. The independent Stabroek News reported that the men received multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, face, and lower extremities, and that police recovered a cutlass and a .32 calibre gun.

"On January 29, police shot and killed Errol Immanuel. According to Stabroek News, Immanuel, an itinerant vendor, was sitting with a friend around 8 pm when a police van stopped, and the policemen confronted him. According to eyewitnesses, Immanuel immediately raised his hands in the air, but one of the police officers fired two shots directly at him. The other man reportedly was arrested, tied to a fence, but subsequently released when reinforcements arrived. According to a GPF press release, Immanuel was killed in a confrontation with police after he allegedly attempted to rob someone at knife-point.

"On March 1, a police patrol fired on a car carrying five teenagers, killing 18-year-old university student Yohance Douglas and injuring Ronson Grey and O'Neil King. Mass protests followed Douglas' killing, and the incident provoked allegations of racial profiling and indiscriminant use of force by the police. A preliminary inquiry was conducted before the Chief Magistrate, and the authorities charged two police officers with murder.....

"...On September 4, a policeman and a civilian accomplice beat to death Albert Hopkinson when he resisted arrest. Police detectives were immediately dispatched to the rural village where the incident took place, and the man's body was flown to Georgetown for an autopsy, which showed signs of strangulation and a fractured skull. The policeman and the civilian were taken into custody; a preliminary inquiry had not concluded at year's end.

"During the year, there were occasional reports of vigilante action taken against supposed criminals by unknown parties, who possibly included off-duty or former police officers. Several murders reportedly were attributed to this group, popularly referred to as the "Phantom Squad."

"The Constitution prohibits torture; however, police continued to abuse suspects. The GHRA continued to consider mistreatment of prisoners by prison officers a problem. Moreover, inmates, attorneys, and judicial authorities provided credible evidence that police and correctional officers frequently ignored the actions of other inmates who beat, robbed, or otherwise mistreated "problem" prisoners."

Prison conditions poor
"Prison and jail conditions were poor, particularly in police holding cells. Georgetown's Camp Street Prison, the country's largest, was overcrowded. The Prison Authority reported that there were approximately 1,250 inmates in the 5 facilities in the system. Nearly half of these were estimated to be in the Camp Street Prison. According to prison officials, the facility was intended to hold 500 inmates; however, the GHRA stated that the Camp Street Prison initially was designed to hold 350 inmates. Conditions in the country's four smaller prisons generally were adequate. The GHRA continued to advocate improved health care in the prison system. In addition to overcrowding and a lack of medical personnel, poor staff morale was a serious problem. Prison staffers were poorly paid, and their salaries and benefits were insufficient to compensate for the on-the-job risks. The Guyana Prison Service reported that the department was implementing a 10-year (2001-11) strategic plan to modernise the prison system, with an emphasis on making prisons safer for inmates and officers, and implementing new rehabilitation programs."

"The Brickdam lockup in Georgetown had poor sanitation and dangerous conditions. One cell without plumbing or other facilities typically held up to 30 detainees and often was the site of violence between inmates. Although precinct jails were intended to serve only as pretrial holding areas, some suspects were detained there as long as 2 years, waiting for the overburdened judicial system to act on their cases."

Arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile
"Poor training, poor equipment, and poor leadership severely limited the effectiveness of the GPF. Public confidence and cooperation with the police was extremely low. The police appeared completely incapable of effectively addressing an unprecedented violent crime wave, which included multiple deliberate murders of police officers. In addition, there were reports of corruption in the police and a lack of police accountability. Even when police officers faced charges, most of the cases were heard by lower magistrate courts, where other specially trained police officers served as the prosecutors. Human rights monitors questioned officers' commitment to prosecute their own colleagues."

"The Government did not detain persons on political grounds, although supporters of Mark Benschop, a talk show host held on charges of treason, considered him to be a political detainee."

Press freedom 'generally respected'
"The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice; however, there were complaints of interference in the electronic media. Citizens openly criticised the government and its policies."

"In contrast to the Government's tolerance of the print media, a growing number of journalists charged the Government with failure to respect freedom of the electronic media...

In late December 2002, on the recommendation of the Advisory Broadcasting Committee, the Government temporarily suspended the licenses of two television broadcasters, HBTV and CNS. In July, HBTV again had its license temporarily suspended. In each case the suspensions were in response to what was considered irresponsible broadcasting by the stations. The GHRA stated that although the recommendations to suspend were justified, it should have been done through judicial rather than executive action.

The legal and regulatory environment of the broadcast sector is weak and has been widely criticised for its inability to control frequently irresponsible independent television broadcasters.

Rights from Discrimination 'not always enforced'
"The Constitution provides fundamental rights for all persons regardless of race, sex, religion, or national origin; however, the Government did not always enforce these provisions effectively.

Fierce opposition from diverse religious groups prevented the passage of a constitutional amendment to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

Persons living with HIV/AIDS encountered societal discrimination. They faced derogatory comments, the refusal of some mini-bus drivers to pick them up, and other types of stigma-related discrimination. There were anecdotal reports of employers releasing HIV-positive employees but no evidence of official discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Domestic violence 'widespread'
"Violence against women, including domestic violence, was widespread, and NGOs reported that domestic violence crossed racial and socio-economic lines. Despite efforts by NGOs and the DPP to sensitise police officers to domestic violence, the police often were hesitant to interfere in cases of domestic disputes. Help and Shelter (H&S), the first local NGO dedicated to fighting domestic violence, handled 308 cases of abuse, including child, spousal, non-spousal, and other domestic abuse between January and September. Of these, 227 involved spousal abuse, 98 percent of which was directed against women....

"The GHRA criticized the structure of the Domestic Violence Act, stating that the law could not be implemented until appointments had been made to the Women's Affairs Bureau.

Rape, particularly of girls and young women, was a serious problem but was infrequently reported or prosecuted. While more victims reported these crimes to the authorities than previously, there still was a social stigma applied to the victim for doing so...

"There was no legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace."

Children feel brunt of poverty
"Children were affected more severely by the country's poverty than any other group... The public health system was inadequate, and private health care was unaffordable for many children. Children often did not attend school because their families needed them to contribute to the household by working or providing childcare for siblings or younger relatives...

"There was continued concern over the effects of domestic violence on children. It was unclear how many deaths from child abuse took place; law enforcement officials believed that the vast majority of criminal child abuse cases were unreported. Reports of physical and sexual abuse of children were common. There were no law enforcement investigative procedures in place to determine if abuse or parental incapacity were the true causes of death in some cases of the numerous children under the age of 5 who died each year; these deaths were usually attributed to malnutrition or disease...

Many children suffered from neglect or abandonment, much of which resulted from the annual emigration of 1 to 2 percent of the adult population, who often left children behind.

The Government has reiterated its position that corporal punishment is acceptable. The Government's report to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child refers to "a parent's right to chastise." Anecdotal reports indicated that violence against children in public schools continued to occur, but Education Ministry data on the number of corporal punishment cases were unavailable. The Ministry of Education instituted a programme intended to phase out corporal punishment in schools, but it had not been fully implemented by year's end.

"There were reports of child prostitution. UNICEF criticised the practice in which girls traded sexual favors for money, gifts, or help in employment or higher education, a practice sometimes condoned by their parents and obscured by cultural norms."

Neglect for disabled
"There was no law mandating provision of access for persons with disabilities, and the lack of appropriate infrastructure to provide access to both public and private facilities made it very difficult for persons with disabilities to be employed outside their homes. A council for persons with disabilities functioned throughout the year. There were several special schools and training centers for persons with disabilities, but the facilities lacked trained staff and were in disrepair."

Demarcation of Amerindian land lacks transparency
The Amerindian population has a "standard of living.. much lower than that of most citizens and their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources was limited. Access to education and health care in Amerindian communities was limited severely..."

"The Government continued to maintain that it was committed to demarcating lands that traditionally have been the home of Amerindians, but the Government held title to almost all the country's land and was free to act as it wished without consultation. Under existing legislation, Amerindian rights to land are limited, and legal titles officially granted can be taken away in at least five ways. The demarcation process lacks transparency and has itself been a source of contention, with Amerindian communities claiming that their input has not been given appropriate consideration. For the Amerindian population, the land question constituted a major issue. Amerindians complained that the Government allocated land to other interests without proper consultations with the communities. Whether for concessions for environmentally damaging mining or logging interests or environmentally protected reserves, the Amerindian communities often viewed the allocations as illegitimate taking of "their" lands."

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
"Members of both the largely Indo-Guyanese PPP/C and the largely Afro-Guyanese PNC/R engaged in rhetorical and propaganda attacks that fuelled racial tensions.

"The civil service and security forces continued to be overwhelmingly staffed by Afro-Guyanese. Recruitment for the uniformed services operated on an open basis, with no preference or special effort to attract applicants from any particular group. There were generally few Indo-Guyanese applicants, since most qualified Indo-Guyanese candidates opted for a business or professional career over military, police, or public service."

More need to monitor Child Labour
"While the Ministry of Labour recognised that child labour existed in the informal sector, it did not employ sufficient inspectors to enforce existing laws effectively. The practice of teenage prostitution was a problem...

There were no laws that specifically prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were some reports of women being lured into prostitution through false promises of employment, as well as reports of child prostitution by teenagers in cities and in remote gold mining areas in Amerindian communities."

The full report is available on the State Department website at: