BY EDWARD LAYNE
The United States Department of State says corruption continues to be among the leading human rights problems facing Guyana.
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, released by the department recently, also chronicled other human rights violations.
“There remained a widespread public perception of corruption involving officials at all levels, including the police and the judiciary,” the report said.
It noted however that the government responded to these reports, but did not elaborate.
The report also stated that while the law requires public officials to declare their assets to an Integrity Commission, the commission has not been constituted.
It added that the law sets out both criminal and administrative sanctions for nondisclosure to the commission by public officials, but, no such publication or convictions occurred during the year.
The report cited as another significant human rights violation in Guyana is extra-judicial killings.
“The most significant human rights problems were arbitrary killings by the government or its agents… there were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year,” it stated.
It added that other human rights problems included lengthy pretrial detention, an age old problem in Guyana.
Addressing the issue of police excesses, the report stated that there was a lack of independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuses by security force members.
“Prosecutions when pursued were extremely lengthy, and convictions rare, leading to a widespread perception that security force members and government officials enjoyed impunity,” it noted
The document pointed to the July 2015 shooting to death of alleged smuggler Charles Caesar by a member of the now disbanded Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS) while attempting to arrest him.
Police reported that Caesar was suspected to have smuggled illegal goods into the country and attempted to run away to avoid arrest.
On the issue of torture, the report stated that while the laws in Guyana continue to prohibit such acts, there were reports alleging mistreatment of inmates by prison officials as well as allegations of police abuse of suspects and detainees.
The report said that prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were “harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.”
The Prison Service reported that, as of October 2015, there were 1944 prisoners in five facilities with a combined design capacity of 1640.
“Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 11.3 per cent of the total prison population,” the report stated.
Police and security apparatus
The report also pointed to the lack of adequate training, poor equipment, and acute budgetary constraints severely limiting the Guyana Police Force’s (GPF) effectiveness as well as corruption within the force.
“There were reports of corruption in the police force. Authorities charged and brought to court 23 GPF members for various crimes, including robbery, simple larceny, bribery, and indecent assault.
According to the Caribbean Development Report commissioned by the UN Development Programme, public confidence in the police force was very low.
It however noted that efforts were being made to address some of these issues.
The report highlighted archaic laws which make consensual same-sex activity between adult men illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison.
It stated that anal intercourse is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison, regardless of whether the intercourse is between persons of the same sex.
“Activists reported that it was more common for police to use the law to intimidate men who were gay or perceived to be gay than to make arrests,” the report cited.
The law also criminalises cross-dressing. In October a male domestic worker was convicted for cross-dressing.
Freedom of speech and press
On the issue of freedom of speech and press, the US State Department said that while the government generally respects the laws which provide for Freedom of Speech in Guyana, there were attempts at state censorship during 2015.
“In August the prime minister issued a directive that all headlines in the state-owned print media (Guyana Chronicle) be first scrutinised and approved by his office before they are published. The directive was a response to a headline criticising the government,” it noted
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who has oversight responsibility for the state media, was harshly criticised for this action.
He had also attempted to intimidate the young Journalists who wrote the article headlined: “Gov’t blunders on Budget Estimates …violates laws assented to by President Granger” in which the government was criticised.
It meanwhile highlighted that government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. (Guyana Times)