OPINION: THE CARTER CENTER DEBACLE: A Violation of Int’l & Domestic Law – Nandlall

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Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

The following is an opinion piece by Attorney-at-law Anil Nandlall

The de facto Government of Guyana’s decision to refuse, thus far, to grant permission to Carter Centre, a duly accredited International Observer Team, to complete its observation of the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Elections in Guyana has catapulted this nation to international ignominy.

Carter Center is one of the most respected organizations, recognized universally for its manifold endeavours across the globe, including the observance of national elections of independent States. From its birth in 1982, it has observed more than 111 national elections, spanning 39 countries, on almost every continent. It inaugurated its work in Guyana in 1990, and has been a permanent fixture of the electoral oversight apparatus since, observing every election from 1992 onwards.

The International Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the American Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the European Compendium of International Observation of Election, the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the UN Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, are all international treaties to which Guyana has subscribed that concatenate to impose upon Guyana, a duty under International Law to guarantee unimpeded access to international observer missions to monitor all stages of the elections process.

The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (UN 2015) states:
“International election observation has the potential to enhance the integrity of election processes, by deterring and disposing irregularities and fraud… It can promote public confidence, as warranted, promote electoral participation and mitigate the potential for election-related conflict… International observation has become widely accepted around the world in providing accurate and impartial assessment about the nature of the electoral process… International election observation is conducted for the benefit of the people of the country holding the election and for the benefit of the international community.”

The de facto Government’s refusal to grant Carter Center’s permission to return to continue to observe the elections, is not only in violation of International Law, but, also constitutes a violation of Guyana’s obligations under various international treaties.

There is also a violation of domestic law which must also be highlighted. Carter Center was invited, in writing by the President, under section 3 of the General Election Observers Act, Chapter 1:10, Laws of Guyana, ironically an Act that Carter Center itself helped to promulgate in 1990. Section 3(2) provides that the name of any person so invited shall be published in the Gazette and shall be issued with an identity card by the Chairman of the Elections Commission. Carter Center was among a list of observers that were published in the Gazette and were issued with an identity card by the Chairperson of GECOM, in compliance with section 3 of the said Act.

This invitation has not been lawfully revoked. To do so would require a written revocation from the President and a cancellation in writing of that identity card from the Chairperson of GECOM, along with, a notification of the same in the Official Gazette. None of this were done. Carter Center’s invitation to observe the elections, therefore, remains binding and enforceable.

Once that permission remains extant, Carter Center enjoys certain rights guaranteed by the Act, the relevant provisions of which I set hereunder:

“Sect.4. (1) Any other law to the contrary notwithstanding, an observer may scrutinize the official list of electors, enter polling places and places appointed for the counting of votes, and seek information from the Chairman of the Elections Commission, the Chief Election Officer and other election officers…

(3) The Chairman of the Elections Commission, the Chief Elections Officer and other election officers shall cooperate with the observers and shall comply with any reasonable request made by the observers in the performance of their functions.

Sect 6. Everyone who assaults an observer or obstructs or interferes with him in the performance of his functions or the exercise of his rights under this Act shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of fifteen thousand dollars and imprisonment for eighteen months.”

Therefore, the Chairperson, the Chief Elections Officer, the COVID-19 Taskforce and the Government of Guyana, in refusing to grant Carter Center permission, to return to complete their mission of observing the March 2, 2020, elections, have all committed multiple violations of this Act, including, a criminal offence under section 6. A request to return to Guyana is a “reasonable request” and the refusal of it amounts to an obstruction of, or interference with, the performance of their functions or the exercise of their rights under the Act.

In conclusion, the call for the imposition of personal sanctions is not one without basis. It is predicated upon violations of numerous principles and concepts of International Law, International Treaties, as well as, Domestic Law, committed by those aforementioned. –