Freedom in the World - Guyana (2004)
|Publication Date||18 December 2003|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World - Guyana (2004), 18 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473c549323.html [accessed 23 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 2
Life Expectancy: 63
Religious Groups: Christian (50 percent), Hindu (35 percent), Muslim (10 percent), other (5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: East Indian (50 percent), black (36 percent), Amerindian (7 percent), other (7 percent)
Guyana's political leadership faced growing questions in 2003 about its ability to combat crime and corruption and its commitment to the rule of law. Amidst what some critics called a "crisis of governance," worries grew about the possibility that foreign narcotics traffickers were extending their reach in the country. Meanwhile, the lack of legitimate foreign investment in Guyana spurred an increasing out-migration of its hard-pressed population.
From independence in 1966 until 1992, Guyana was ruled by the autocratic, predominantly Afro-Guyanese, People's National Congress (PNC). Descendants of indentured workers from India – known as Indo-Guyanese – make up about half of the population, while about 36 percent are Afro-Guyanese descended from African slaves.
The first free and fair elections were held in 1992, and 80 percent of the eligible population voted. The PNC lost to the PPP/C, an alliance of the predominantly IndoGuyanese People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the Civic Party. PPP leader Cheddi Jagan, having moderated his Marxism since the collapse of communism, became president with 52 percent of the vote. Jagan's work was cut short by his death in March 1997, and he was replaced by Samuel Hinds, a member of Civic, the PPP's coalition partner. Hinds called elections for December 15, 1997, in which Jagan's widow, Janet, defeated the PNC's Desmond Hoyte. Ill health forced Janet Jagan to resign in August 1999, and she was replaced by the finance minister, Bharrat Jagdeo, who promised to heal racial and political divides and to welcome foreign investment.
Jagdeo was reelected on March 19, 2001, after 90 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots in voting that showed the country's continuing deep divisions along racial lines. Jagdeo's first initiative on being declared the winner was to make a televised national appeal to his countrymen to begin a process of national healing. In mid-2001, violence erupted in several small towns in protest against crime, poverty, and poor public services.
A rising crime rate and a parliamentary impasse dominated Guyana's political scene throughout 2002. The PPP/C and the main opposition People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) traded bitter words over the issue of payment for opposition members engaged in a boycott of parliament, in effect since March 15. The PNC/R said that unless agreed-upon reforms of the parliamentary system were implemented, it considered participation in National Assembly debates to be meaningless. Independent observers noted that the impasse posed few immediate risks to political stability, given that the PNC/R continued to participate in the Public Accounts Committee, which is the only standing committee in the assembly.
From February to September 2002, nearly a dozen police officers and more than 50 civilians were killed in an outbreak of violent crime that exacerbated uneasy relations between the two main races. In September, the PPP/C-dominated parliament passed four anticrime initiatives. However, PNC/R representatives who boycotted the legislative session claimed that the measures would not solve Guyana's crime problem, but rather were meant "to arm the regime with the draconian powers of dictatorship."
In January 2003, Amnesty International called recently adopted anticrime legislation "draconian" and said that its mandatory death penalty provisions for those committing a "terrorist act" were "in breach of international law." The organization said further said that it was particularly concerned that "the broad and vague definition of 'terrorist act' adopted ... could be interpreted so as to encompass activities which involve the legitimate exercise of rights guaranteed under international law," including the right to strike. The March 1, 2003, shooting by police of an 18-year-old architecture student in disputed circumstances elevated concerns over extrajudicial killings by the security forces.
In September, a new controversy erupted with the publication of a draft World Bank report that claimed there was a "crisis of governance" in Guyana, and that the government in Georgetown, which had yet to demonstrate a "real commitment to political reform," was unable to promote growth and development nor to manage the challenges of endemic crime and corruption. The crisis, the report said, "discouraged investments, severely compromised good governance and fuelled migration." The World Bank report warned that increasing racial tension would result in violent conflict. "Nowhere was the crisis in governance more evident than in the area of security," it said, "to the point where the rule of law, the security and judicial systems, were viewed as having collapsed and confidence in the army, police and judiciary largely evaporated."
In September, President Jagdeo asked U.S. President George Bush for help in combating cocaine trafficking, saying he feared that the Colombian drug trade was gaining a foothold in Guyana.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Citizens can change their government democratically. The 2001 elections generated a broader consensus about the importance of election reform to the democratic process. Because the constitution lacks explicit guarantees, political rights and civil liberties rest more on government tolerance than on institutional protection. The 1980 constitution provides for a strong president and the 65-seat National Assembly, elected every five years. Twelve seats are occupied by elected local officials. The leader of the party winning the plurality of parliamentary seats becomes president for a five-year term, who in turn appoints the prime minister and cabinet.
Several independent newspapers operate freely, including the daily Stabroek News. However, a growing number of journalists charged the government with failure to respect freedom of the electronic media. The government owned and operated the country's sole radio station, which broadcast on three frequencies. There are no private radio stations. Seventeen privately owned television stations freely criticize the government.
Guyanese generally enjoy freedom of religion and the government does not restrict academic freedom.
The freedom to organize political parties, civic organizations, and labor unions are generally respected. Labor unions are well organized. Companies are not obligated to recognize unions in former state enterprises sold off by the government.
The judicial system is independent, although due process is undermined by shortages of staff and funds. Prisons are overcrowded and conditions are poor. Guyana is the only former British colony in the Caribbean to have cut all ties to the Privy Council of London, the court of last resort for other former colonies in the region. The Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force are under civilian control, the latter invested with the authority to make arrests and maintain law and order throughout the country. Guyana's porous and largely unpatrolled borders have made the country an increasingly attractive transshipment route for South American cocaine, which, together with a small domestic cultivation of marijuana, has caused local consumption of illegal drugs to increase markedly.
The Guyana Human Rights Association, an autonomous and effective group backed by independent civic and religious groups, reported that security forces killed 39 civilians during the year, compared with 28 in 2002. Although authorities have taken some steps to investigate extrajudicial killings, and charges against some officers have been brought, the numbers are further evidence that abuses are still committed with impunity.
Racial clashes have diminished within the last decade. However, long-standing animosity between Afroand Indo-Guyanese remains a deep concern. A Racial Hostility Bill passed in September 2002 increased the penalties for race-based crimes. In May 2003, the government appointed an ethnic relations commission to help combat discrimination and reduce social tensions.
There are nine groups of indigenous peoples in Guyana numbering approximately 80,000, or 10 percent of the population. Human rights violations against them are widespread and pervasive, particularly concerning the failure of the state to adequately respect indigenous land and resource rights. Indigenous peoples' attempts to seek redress through the courts have been met with unwarranted delays by the judiciary. In 2002, an agreement between the government and Conservation International, establishing southern Guyana as a protected area, was criticized by indigenous groups as "gross disrespect," since the parties did not consult with six Indian communities whose ancestral lands will be encompassed by the accord. On a positive note, recent government collaboration with UN relief agencies had resulted in improvements in health care, education, and food programs in indigenous communities.
Violence against women, including domestic violence, is common in Guyana. There are no legal protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.