US report highlights abuse of suspects, poor prison and jail conditions
March 7, 2007
A recent released report by the United States has identified unlawful killings by police, police abuse of suspects, poor prison and jail conditions, lengthy pre-trial detention, and searches conducted without warrants, as the most significant reported human rights abuses in Guyana .
According to the 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, poor training, poor equipment, and acute budgetary constraints severely limited the effectiveness of the Guyana Police Force, while public confidence in and cooperation with the police remained low.
The report which is prepared by the U.S. Department of State and submitted to the U.S. Congress, noted that there were reports of corruption in the force.
Providing a detailed analysis of the Human Rights scenario in Guyana , the report noted that inequitable use of government-controlled media resources compromised media freedom during the campaign for the August elections, which it said was the first non-violent elections in nearly two decades.
The report noted that there was a widespread perception of government corruption, while sexual abuse and domestic violence against women and children and discrimination against indigenous persons were pervasive.
Trafficking in persons, the report stated, remained a problem during 2006.
According to the U.S. report, while there was no evidence that the government or its agents committed any politically motivated killings, the non-governmental organisations (NGO) Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the media asserted that police continued to commit unlawful killings.
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) received complaints of seven unlawful killings during the year.
In most cases, the report noted, the police shot the victims while attempting to make an arrest or while a crime was being committed. Police seldom were prosecuted for unlawful killings. The constitution broadly defines justifiable use of lethal force.
The U.S. report stated that there were no developments in the allegations of police killings in previous years, including the 2005 cases of Simeon Hope, Eon Forrester, Dwight McKenzie, Eon Alleyne, and Carl Abrams.
The U.S. noted that the case relating to the killing of Agriculture Minister Satyadeow Sawh, his siblings and a security guard, remained open at end of the year.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
However, in the area of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the U.S. Human Rights report noted that although the law prohibits torture, and there were no reports of its use, allegations of police abuse of suspects continued.
Additionally, the report noted that in September, masked men, some wearing camouflage gear, allegedly forced Buxton residents Troy Freeman, Wendrick Providence, and Kester October into vehicles.
The men claimed that they were held for three days in a room, interrogated, and threatened with torture before being handed over to the police.
According to the report, there is currently widespread public perception of serious corruption in government, including law enforcement and the judicial system with low-wage public servants being prime targets for bribery.
According to the United States Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006, the law does not provide for public access to government information, and government officials were often reluctant to provide public information without approval from senior levels of the administration.
The U.S. report noted that while the constitution provides fundamental rights for all persons regardless of race, gender, religion, or national origin, the government did not always enforce these provisions.
However, the report noted that on August 28 last, citizens voted in a generally free election to keep the PPP/C government in office.
But, noted that the ruling party's use of government resources during the campaign disadvantaged opposition parties.
“According to reports by independent monitoring groups, the government used its radio monopoly and control over state television stations to air coverage casting the government and ruling party in a favorable light. Some opposition parties and politicians reported that their tax records had been singled out for scrutiny during the pre-election period,” the US report noted.
ARREST AND DETENTION
The US report stated that although the law provides criminal detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice, as well as access to family members, in practice these rights were not fully respected. Police routinely required permission from the senior investigating officer, who was seldom on the premises, before permitting counsel access to a client.
There were reports that senior officers refused to grant prompt access to prisoners, the US report contended.
The report added that the lengthy pre-trial detention, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures, remained a problem, despite the Chief Justice's efforts to have the courts deal more quickly with inmates on remand.
Noting the unnecessary delays, which resulted in a backlog of more than 14,000 cases, the report acknowledged efforts to trim that amount.
“Some judges did not deliver written decisions on completed cases in a timely manner, further adding to the backlog. Programs designed to improve legal structures, reform judicial procedures, upgrade technical capabilities, and improve efficiency of the courts had a limited effect,” the US report stated.
It was noted in the report that the government did not detain persons on political grounds, although supporters of Mark Benschop, a talk show host arrested on charges of treason in 2002, considered him to be a political detainee.
The report also noted that delays, inefficiencies, and corruption in the magistrate court system affected the ability of citizens to seek timely remedy in civil matters, and there was a large backlog of civil cases waiting to be heard.
On citizens' privacy, the U.S. report stated that although the authorities generally respected the need to have a search warrant, there were reports that police officers searched homes without warrants, particularly in the village of Buxton , a criminal enclave, and in neighbourhoods where narcotics trafficking was suspected.
The government was seen to have generally respected these rights in practice, but the report noted that there were some exceptions. Inequitable use of government-controlled media resources was highlighted, especially during the months leading up to the August 28 national elections.
The independent media were described as “active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction”. International media operated freely.
According to the U.S. report, government limits on licensing and expansion sharply constrained the broadcast media.
“Private interests and the political opposition continued to criticize the government for its failure to approve long-standing requests for private radio frequency authorizations,” the report stated.
Lack of sensitivity for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence and tolerance for perpetrators of abuse reached to all levels of society, the U.S. report stated.
It was noted that in July, former Minister of Human Services and Social Security Bibi Shadick reacted to press reports of an alleged pornography ring blackmailing or drugging young girls and forcing them to appear in pornographic videos with the observation that based on her examination of two photographs of the incidents, the activities appeared to represent “consensual sexual activity.”
“Several prominent figures in politics and society retained their status despite widely circulating rumours of their past histories of sexual abuses and domestic violence against women,” the U.S. report stated.
The Human Rights Report is an annual report prepared by the Department of State and submitted to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act. The report covers internationally recognised individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.