On Friday, April 8, a delegation representing the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Carl Greenidge along with Foreign Service Officers, Jason Fields and Vonetta Victor, to follow up on the thematic hearing between the GEF and Guyana at the 154th period of sessions before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a year ago in March 2015.
Sabine McIntosh, President of the Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG) along with Managing Director, Joel Simpson, and Advocacy and Communications Office, Schemel Patrick of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) attended the meeting with the Minister to call attention to Guyana’s international commitments and remind the state of its obligations to address discrimination in the enjoyment of social, economic and cultural rights in Guyana.
McIntosh who spoke about the right to language and education for deaf persons highlighted Guyana’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Guyana became the 150th country to ratify in September 2014. She noted that Article 4 of the Convention requires state parties to “ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities.” Article 24 further states that “persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.” Article 24 also outlines the state’s obligation of “facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community.” McIntosh underscored Guyana’s duty to give deaf students the option of attending deaf-dedicated schools, where their language and culture are fostered and where they are adequately prepared for their life as responsible and productive citizens. Guyana is lagging behind our CARICOM counterparts, such as Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, where sign language is taught at university level and where parents can send their deaf children to a public or private deaf-dedicated school. She asked Minister Greenidge to invite the World Federation of the Deaf to provide expert advice and best practices on how best to meet these obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as is outlined in Article 38 of the Convention.
SASOD’s Schemel Patrick presented on behalf of the Sisterhood of Support, Services and Sustainability Foundation (S4 Foundation). S4 Foundation was represented by its Executive Director Imarah Radix at the 2015 Thematic Hearing. S4 urged the Guyana government to ratify or ascend to the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). By ratifying these Optional Protocols, a state recognizes the competence of the CEDAW and ICESCR Committees – the bodies that monitor state parties’ compliance with the Conventions – to receive and consider complaints from individuals or groups within its jurisdiction.
SASOD’s Joel Simpson presented three key recommendations from the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous Peoples (GOIP). GOIP was represented by Chief Colin Klautky at the March 2015 hearing. GOIP endorses the recommendations of the ICESCR Committee at Guyana’s September 2015 review and calls on the Coalition government to take all necessary steps to support and preserve indigenous languages at risk of extinction and to enhance the integration of indigenous cultures in the education system. GOIP also expressed grave concerned with the issue of cross-border and intra-national sex trafficking in indigenous women and children. Over the years, illicit trafficking networks have, with impunity, been smuggling mostly female citizens of Guyana across the porous borders, as well as citizens of other countries entering Guyana as part of this nefarious modern-day sex slavery. Guyana is a signatory to conventions that prevent racism and racial discrimination, such as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). At March 2015 hearing, it was noted that derogatory references to Guyana’s original inhabitants as “bok people” and “bok and people” persist to this day. GOIP requested that the Coalition government proactive strategies being implemented to curb these “everyday expressions” of racism and other systematic abuses against Guyana’s first peoples.
The GEF recommends that Guyana sign and ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance which were both adopted at the OAS General Assembly in La Antigua, Guatemala on June 5, 2013. The GEF also recommends that these Inter-American Conventions are added to the list of 7 human rights treaties in the Fourth Schedule of the Guyana Constitution and, by this direct incorporation, made part of the Constitution itself. Because the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land,” the GEF believes this will significantly strengthen legal protection from discrimination for all Guyanese citizens in keeping with international standards.
Simpson also reminded Minister Greenidge of the Government’s obligations to ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese are offered legal protection from discrimination in the enjoyment of their socio-economic rights. He urged the Vice President and APNU Minister to support an amendment of the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include sexual orientation, gender identity and health status as grounds for discrimination. Simpson also charged the Minister to vote in favour of the annual resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity resolution, which Guyana has supported from 2008 to 2013, at this year’s Organisation of American States (OAS) General Assembly in June 2016 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In closing, Simpson proposed the Minister invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for a country visit to share good practices and to discuss initiatives for ensuring non-discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and culture rights for all Guyanese.
In responding to the delegation, Minister Greenidge encouraged the GEF member groups to also engage the relevant ministries with responsibility for dealing with their specific sectoral issues. He noted that the Coalition government did not oppose proposals to advance human rights protection in principle, but lamented the resource constraints it faces to effectively address some issues.  Minister Greenidge also underscored the importance of community engagement, innovation and education in alleviating social problems. He noted the need for strengthening the government’s human and institutional capacity to ensure that government meets its international obligations. Minister Greenidge pointed out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not fashion policy but articulates on behalf of various agencies in the international arena.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is a principal and autonomous organ of the OAS whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.
Founded by SASOD in May 2011, the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) is a network of local civil society groups working for equal rights and justice in Guyana. The GEF is chaired by Red Thread while SASOD serves as the network’s secretariat.