US human rights report points to law enforcement abuses
-says 'perception' of govt corruption widespread
March 7, 2007
Law enforcement abuses remain at the top of the country's human rights violations.
The 2006 country report on Human Rights Practices, released yesterday by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, also said that there continued to be a widespread "perception" of government corruption, and the state's inequitable use of government-owned media is seen to have compromised press freedom during the elections campaign. According to the report, the most significant reported human rights abuses included unlawful killings by police, police abuse of suspects, poor prison and jail conditions, lengthy pre-trial detentions, and searches without legal warrants. It was felt that poor training, poor equipment, and acute budgetary constraints severely limited the effectiveness of the GPF. As a result, public confidence in the police remained low. There were also reports of corruption in the force.
The report explained that while there was no evidence that the government or agents committed any politically-motivated killings, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the media continued to point to instances of unlawful killings committed by the police. During the year, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) received complaints of seven unlawful killings, but in most cases the police shot the victims while attempting to make an arrest or while a crime was being committed. Since the country's constitution broadly defines justifiable use of lethal force, police were seldom prosecuted for unlawful killings.
The February 8, fatal shooting of Bemaul Harrinarine, was cited in the report. Media reports indicated that police officers shot Harrinarine at his residence while attempting to arrest him on robbery charges. The police reported that Harrinarine threatened officers with a machete. The man's family, however, said that police shot him three times immediately after he opened the door to them and then retrieved a machete from the house to corroborate their story. On April 9, minibus driver Orin Adams died after being taken to the Brickdam Police Station for a traffic offence. Two officers hit Adams before taking him to the station. The man was later pronounced dead on arrival at the Georgetown Public Hospital and a post-mortem showed that he died as a result of a blow to the back of the neck. Authorities arrested two policemen in connection with the death and in May policeman Mohanlall Persaud was charged with manslaughter and he was released on bail. The case remained pending at year's end. In October, the police fatally shot James Bennet. Reports said police fired warning shots before pursuing Bennet and several other persons suspected of dealing in cocaine. Eyewitnesses reported that a police officer shot Bennet as he was running away and then shot again after he fell down incapacitated. According to the police, the second shot was accidentally discharged when the pursuing officer also fell to the ground. Bennet died before receiving medical attention. The report also noted 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 report also took note of the April 22 murder of Agriculture Minister Satyadeow Sawh, along with two of his relatives and a security guard. While the gunmen also stole some cash and jewellery, authorities did not believe that robbery was the motivation for the attack. In several instances during the following months, men wanted for questioning in relation to the Sawh killing were shot and killed by police during pursuit or arrest. One man has since been charged.
Police were also rapped for the abuse of suspects. As of October the PCA received 47 complaints of unlawful arrest and by year's end it had received 22 complaints of unnecessary use of violence. The GHRA explained that high levels of violent crime and pressure on the GPF to deliver results contributed to an upsurge in police misconduct.
Another disturbing incident occurred in September, when masked men, including some wearing camouflage gear, allegedly forced Buxton residents Troy Freeman, Wendrick Providence, and Kester October into vehicles. The trio alleged that they were held for three days in a room, interrogated, and threatened with torture before being handed over to the police. Acting Police Commissioner Henry Greene, in a subsequent comment to Stabroek News, did not confirm or deny police involvement, but he explained that as a security tactic police could wear masks while carrying out certain arrests.
The Guyana Prison Service (GPS) and the police force were criticised in the report for the conditions at their detention centres. Prison and jail conditions were described as being poor, particularly in police holding cells. The Prison Authority reported that there were 1,724 prisoners in five facilities, more than half of whom were in Georgetown's Camp Street Prison, which was designed to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 900 during the year. Overcrowding was in large part due to backlogs of pre-trial detainees.
In August last year there was violent unrest at the Camp Street Prison. Prisoners climbed onto the roof and set fire to mattresses to protest substandard food, inadequate bedding materials, lack of access to sufficient water for bathing, and lengthy delays in their cases. Also, in September, the Guyanese Women in Development helped a group of female pre-trial detainees at the New Amsterdam Prison to obtain an audience at the New Amsterdam Magistrate's Court, to air their complaints about detention conditions. The women complained that, unlike male prisoners, they were forced to do heavy chores despite having medical conditions. They also said that their requests for medical attention had been denied and complained about substandard food. They reported too that food items delivered by relatives were often taken away, forcing them to supplement their rations from an expensive prison-run food shop. Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine subsequently sent a team to the prison to investigate and submit recommendations to the director. Conditions in the country's four smaller prisons were said to be adequate, although a jailbreak at the Mazaruni prison at the start of this year was thought to have been related to conditions at the facility.
The report also drew attention to the fact that juvenile offenders aged 16 and older were held with the adult prison population. Juvenile offenders ages 15 and younger were held in the NOC, which originally was conceived as a training and rehabilitation facility rather than as a juvenile detention centre. There were also complaints that juvenile runaways, or those out of their guardians' care, were placed with juveniles who had committed crimes, with the result that some petty offenders became involved in more serious criminal activity. According to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a separate, secure facility for juveniles who had committed more serious offences was needed to correct this problem.
The DPP also noted the need for better rehabilitation and education programmes at the NOC. The NOC facility had multiple problems including staffing capacity, capabilities, and lack of effective security.
The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions, but there were no known requests by human rights organizations to conduct such monitoring during the year.
Judicial inefficiency was blamed for the lengthy pre-trial detention. The report said staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures, remained a problem, despite Chief Justice Carl Singh's efforts to have the courts deal more quickly with inmates on remand. (Delays in judicial proceeding were also blamed, caused by shortages of trained court personnel and magistrates, inadequate resources, postponements at the request of the defence or prosecution, occasional allegations of bribery, poor tracking of cases, and the slowness of police in preparing cases for trial.) In fact, pre-trial detainees made up approximately one-third of the prison population, and the average length of pre-trial detention was four months for those awaiting trial at the Magistrates' Court and 18 months for those awaiting trial at the High Court. As a result, the report concluded that delays and inefficiencies in the judicial process undermined due process. The delays resulted in a backlog of more than 14,000 cases, 3,000 more than the previous year. It added that while the courts made some attempt to deal with the backlog, including working overtime hours, encouraging the use of mediation on a voluntary basis, and opening a specialized Commercial Court, the backlog remained severe. In particular, some judges did not deliver written decisions on completed cases in a timely manner, further adding to the backlog.
The report also noted that although the law provides for an independent judiciary and the government generally respected this provision, in practice some law enforcement officials, prominent lawyers, and others accused the government of occasional judicial intervention. Additionally, NGOs described a general perception that the executive influenced the judiciary. And while the government was not found to have detained persons on political grounds, Mark Benschop's detention on a treason charge continued to be described by his supporters as being politically-motivated.
The report said there was a widespread public perception of serious corruption in the government, including law enforcement and the judicial system. Low-wage public servants were also considered easy targets for bribery. In addition, it noted that 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 government was described as being generally respectful of the rights of free speech and a free media in practice, although there were notable exceptions. In particular, the inequitable use of government-controlled media resources was seen as a problem, especially during the months leading up to the August general elections.
Also, government limits on licensing and expansion sharply constrained the broadcast media. The government owned and operated two radio stations broadcasting on several frequencies, which are the only media that reach the entire country. A third station, Radio Paiwomak, operated under the licence of the government-operated National Communica-tions Network as a community radio station with a limited broadcast area in the hinterland Rupununi region. Private interests and the political opposition continued to criticize the government for its failure to approve long-standing requests for private radio frequency authorizations.
In August there were reports that an unlicensed radio station broadcast music and opposition political advertisements in Region Ten for three weeks leading up to the national elections. The head of the Presidential Secretariat called these illegal broadcasts a "threat to national security." The report added that equitable access to the state media remained a contentious issue between the government and opposition parties and grew more heated during the run-up to the polls. In the month before polling day, the government-run television and radio stations tripled the cost for political advertisements, effectively denying access to less well-funded opposition parties. After international observers intervened, the rates were reduced to match the fees charged during the 1997 campaign, still nearly double the regular advertising rates.
The ruling party received 64 percent of positive political coverage on the state-owned National Communications Network television channel, with nine opposition parties sharing the remaining positive coverage. The Media Monitoring Unit made several final recommendations in its report, including the passage of a Freedom of Information Act, better regulations for paid political advertisements, and the liberalisation of radio licenses.
The report did find that the independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Last August's general elections were cited for being the country's first non-violent polls in nearly two decades.
The report also found that vulnerable groups like women and children as well as indigenous persons continued to be victims of abuses, including sexual abuse, violence and human trafficking. In the latter case, it was again noted that the country was a source and destination for trafficked women, children, and men. It did, however, point out that most trafficking in persons occurred internally and involved young women and girls trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary domestic servitude. Young Amerindian men were exploited under forced labour conditions in timber camps. Most trafficking originated in impoverished indigenous communities, although some victims came from the larger coastal cities. In some instances victims were forcibly abducted. Some women trafficked into the country came from the northern regions of neighbouring Brazil. A smaller number of women were trafficked into the country's sex trade. Reports indicated that trafficking victims were promised employment as highly paid domestic helpers, cooks, restaurant servers, and nude dancers. The victims were provided with barracks-style housing with cramped quarters and sometimes were locked inside. They were restrained through debt bondage, intimidation, and physical abuse. Most victims were exposed to the same health risks as women in prostitution and other victims of sexual exploitation, including sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Girls and young women were trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation to neighbouring countries, including Suriname and Barbados.
Most traffickers were believed to be individual business persons or small groups of miners. There was no evidence that government officials or institutions participated in or condoned human trafficking. In March last year, five people were charged with forcing a runaway 12-year-old girl into sexual slavery. Michael Joseph, Tinelle Edwards, John Wills, Shemroy Marks, and Treon Rutherford allegedly paid to have sex with the girl, who was eventually taken to the police by relatives who discovered her whereabouts. At year's end cases against Wills, Edwards, and Joseph were pending. In September Ramdai Narine was charged with harbouring a 15-year-old girl "by means of a position of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation." Narine pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.
The report said the government continued to make progress in its efforts to combat trafficking in persons, although there were no convictions under the Trafficking in Persons Act during the year. In January the government released a review of its counter-trafficking efforts from 2004-05 which acknowledged the need for improved policing and outreach efforts in rural communities. There is a National Plan of Action to combat human trafficking, and the deputy commissioner of police monitors enforcement.
The report can be viewed in its entirety at: