Press Release

IACHR Concludes Working Visit to Guyana

October 13, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a working visit to Guyana from September 21 to 23, 2016, to examine issues concerning poverty, as well as the respect and guarantee of the economic, social, and cultural rights in the country. This was the first time the IACHR visited Guyana. The Commission hopes that this visit will lead to enhanced collaboration with the State of Guyana on protection of human rights. The delegation was led by Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi, who heads the IACHR Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A specialist from the Executive Secretariat also accompanied the mission. The IACHR is especially grateful to the State of Guyana for its willingness, openness, and collaboration in organizing the meetings and activities held in the course of the visit.

The main objective of the visit was to gather information for the first thematic report of the IACHR on human rights and poverty in the Americas.  It was the sixth in a series of visits by the Inter-American Commission to the region's countries with that purpose. While in Guyana, the IACHR received information on the acute levels of poverty in the country and what impact they have on human rights guarantees. The IACHR also received important data related to persons, groups, and collectivities in a special situation of vulnerability and affected by poverty and extreme poverty, as well as the exercise of rights in fundamental areas such as education, health services, and employment.   

From September 21 to 23, the IACHR met a number of high-level government officials, including Volda Lawrence, Minister of Social Protection; Rupert Roopnaraine, Minister of Education; and George Norton, Minister of Health. The delegation also had a meeting with Mikiko Tanaka, who is the current United Nations Resident Coordinator in the country. In addition, the Inter-American Commission organized a meeting with the following civil society organizations in Guyana: Society against Sexual Orientation and Discrimination (SASOD), Artistes in Direct Support, Monique’s Caring Hands, Deaf Association of Guyana, Global Shapers Community, Guyana National Youth Council, Guyana Organization of Indigenous Peoples, Guyana Responsible Parents Association, Guyana Trans United, Human Rights Association of Guyana, and Volunteer Youth Corps. On Friday, September 23, the delegation, accompanied by the Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence, visited a community affected by poverty located in Lombard Street in Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. The IACHR concluded its visit with a meeting at the CARICOM offices with Safiya Ali, General Counsel of said institution, and other technical staff. The delegation also took advantage of its presence in Guyana to attend an event on gender-based violence organized by the European Union. The Inter-American Commission would like to convey its special gratitude to Vonetta Victor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Schemel Patrick of the organization SASOD, and Jean Ricot Dormeus, the OAS representative in Guyana, for their support in organizing and arranging the meetings.

In the course of the meeting with the Ministry of Social Protection, the IACHR was briefed by the Minister on important programs undertaken by the State to tackle poverty in the country. Among others, the Minister mentioned initiatives to improve the economic situation of male and female household heads, initiatives to increase access to safe water, and programs carried out in partnership with the International Labour Organization, and the United Nations Population Fund aimed at stimulating job creation and improving socioeconomic prospects for young people in the country. The Minister also shared information about efforts to address the problems of violence and women trafficking. She also explained how international and regional instruments ratified by Guyana were important tools for the Ministry's endeavors. During the meeting, it was suggested that while poverty levels in Guyana have declined, they remain high which is a concern, and that priority attention was required on the part of the Government. The Commission also noted that indigenous peoples and women living in rural and remote “hinterland” areas are particularly affected by poverty. 

The Minister of Education, for his part, mentioned that there are barriers in the education system that affect in a particular way those persons who are affected by poverty, and those living in rural and hinterland areas. He also underscored the need for an increase in teachers' pay and retirement age.  He also mentioned the serious problem of suicide and that many young people are leaving Guyana in search of better educational and career opportunities abroad, owing to the lack of incentives to stay in the country.  One pending priority in schools is the need to incorporate an intercultural perspective in education, including indigenous languages, as well as ways to reconcile ethnic divisions between the country's Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese communities. The Minister of Health provided the delegation with information regarding efforts to broaden health care services in rural and hinterland areas affected by high levels of poverty and health problems such as the Zika virus, anemia, malaria, low glucose levels, adolescent pregnancies, and nutrient deficiency in diets. The Minister also informed the IACHR about efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality rates as well as to increase awareness of family planning methods. The Minister also mentioned programs to train medical staff in service delivery in rural areas, underscoring that, in the future, such programs should incorporate a perspective that is more sensitive to ethnic-racial issues and the different world view of indigenous peoples.   

At the meeting with the United Nations Resident Coordinator, she identified the dearth of statistics concerning the issue of poverty as a fundamental problem to address the current human rights situation and challenges. It also represents an important obstacle to the adoption of legislation and public policies which respond adequately to the needs of different groups, persons, and collectivities. The Resident Coordinator also alluded to the problems of ethnic polarization, structural discrimination, violence, and suicide as factors that seriously affect a diversity of persons, groups, and collectivities in Guyana, including women, young persons, and indigenous peoples.    

At the meeting with civil society organizations, attention was drawn to the high level of poverty with which the Guyanese population continues to struggle, the persistent ethnic polarization, and human rights issues that particularly affect a range of persons, groups, and collectivities, including LGBT persons, persons with disabilities, and those with HIV/AIDS, in addition to specific violations of the rights of children and adolescents, women, and indigenous peoples.  

Individuals at the meeting referred to the high levels of violence suffered by women and LGBT persons, along with the need to reform the country's laws in order to harmonize them with international standards on the rights to equality and nondiscrimination. Particular mention was made of the structural nature of the poverty, discrimination, and exclusion suffered by the LGBT population, the lack of prospects of a quality education and decent work, as well as barriers to necessary health care services. Faced with a lack of opportunities, LGBT youth frequently drop out of school, turn to sex work, and live on the streets. The organizations also provided information on the problem of domestic violence against women across different social classes, as well as the lack of services and options for victims in such a situation, including the fact that many cases reported to the authorities go unpunished.  

Civil society organizations also shared information regarding the alarming situation of persons living with different types of disabilities, such as deafness, many of whom are rejected by society and encounter structural obstacles to finding decent, quality jobs in which they can work with dignity. The organizations underlined the urgent need for better education and job creation programs to enable persons with disabilities to lead productive lives and boost their social, political, and civic participation. Several organizations also provided information regarding the serious structural challenges with which indigenous peoples still contend in Guyana, including failure to respect their land rights, the acute poverty that affects people living in rural and hinterland areas, the problems of violence and people trafficking that affect indigenous women, and discriminatory social stereotypes that hinder social participation and access to decent work and adequate health care services for indigenous peoples. The organizations emphasized the lack of educational and career opportunities for young people in Guyana, which prompts them to migrate to other countries. The organizations also drew attention to the uncertain situation and poverty suffered by persons living with HIV/AIDS, the need for the State to protect and provide political and financial support for the activities of civil society organizations, and the need to establish a human rights commission within the state apparatus, strong enough to carry out its functions properly.

During its visit to the neighborhood of Lombard Street, the IACHR delegation was shocked by the extreme poverty and precarious living conditions of its inhabitants. The community comprises approximately 40 adults and 80 children with clear housing, sanitation, and health problems, as well as limited work opportunities and scant social services provided by the State. During the visit to the community, the IACHR was accompanied by Minister Volda Lawrence, who pledged to continue to work to improve the situation and opportunities of the community's residents. The IACHR calls upon the State to adopt urgent steps to improve the socioeconomic of the Lombard Street residents and to create, immediately and without delay, conditions that allow them to exercise all their human rights.

The delegation ended its visit with a technical meeting at the offices of CARICOM, where it discussed the initiatives adopted by the State of Guyana as well as by all the states which compose this subregional body to address the problem of poverty in the region and meet the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Discussions at the meeting addressed several common determinants of poverty in CARICOM countries, including the countries' economic situation, poverty levels, the situation of groups regarded as vulnerable or at risk, climate change, and hurricanes. The IACHR also acknowledged as a positive step the decision of the CARICOM states to establish a Rapporteurship for the situation of persons with disabilities, with a view to improving their situation with respect to human rights, education, and employment in that organization's member countries. Also discussed was the situation of poverty in the country and how persons and groups that live in the hinterland tend to be the most affected. The IACHR delegation expressed the desire to continue collaborating with CARICOM and its member countries on human rights issues.

Finally, the IACHR underscores its disposition to work with the State of Guyana in addressing the human rights issues discussed during this first visit and expresses its gratitude once more for its openness and willingness in this regard. The IACHR would also like to extend special thanks to the European Union, whose financial support made the visit possible.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 148/16