UN Committee Urges Guyana to Repeal Discriminatory Laws

On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, the USAID – Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) Guyana Project and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) hosted the second in its series of "Lunch Talks" at the APC office in Oleander Avenue, Bel Air Park, Georgetown. This “Lunch Talk” sought to examine the Concluding Observations from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on Guyana’s recent review on September 28 - 29, 2015.

The Concluding Observations after Guyana’s recent review on September 28 and 29 were released on October 9, 2015.  The Concluding Observations contain the collective assessment of the state's record and recommendations for enhanced implementation of the rights under the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

At the “Lunch Talk”, a team from SASOD including of Managing Director, Joel Simpson; Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick and SASOD Volunteers, Monica Brinn and Chase Gorishek, shared a summary of the SASOD’s Stakeholder Report accentuating pertinent topics that were highlighted by the Committee in its Comcluding Observations to the Government of Guyana. The discussion around the table interrogated the Concluding Observations and outlined a clear roadmap of how the Government of Guyana can meet its treaty obligations to fulfil the economic, social and cultural rights of all Guyanese.

Team from SASOD (1-r) - Managing Director, Joel Simpson; Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick and SASOD Volunteers, Monica Brinn and Chase Gorishek

The “Lunch Talk” served as the catalyst for publicly distilling and disseminating, for the first time, the CESCR’s Concluding Observations on Guyana. CESCR provides concrete recommendations on constitutional reform, law reform and policy prescriptions which the APNU+AFC administration is charged to implement forthwith as urgent priorities for achieving equality and human rights for all Guyanese.

In his opening remarks, Simpson provided a brief background on how the CESCR operates and significance of the Concluding Observations to civil society organisations working to advance these causes.

Brinn underscored the articles of the Covenant addressed in the SASOD 's Stakeholder Report on the Protection of the Rights of LGBTI Persons in Guyana. The discussion explored Guyana’s failure to comply with Articles 2: probation of discrimination, article 6: right to work, article 7: right to favourable and just conditions at work, article 12: right to highest attainable standard of health and article 13: right to education of the ICESCR. Brinn noted that the ICESCR through its General Comments prohibits any discrimination on a number of grounds including sexual orientation and health status (including HIV status). In the concluding observations from the CESCR to the Government of Guyana on the issue of non-discrimination, the committee is “concerned about the widespread discrimination based on sex, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, and health status, in all areas of economic and cultural rights...” (p.4); The Committee “is concerned that the Prevention of Discrimination Act of 1997 is mainly applicable to the employment sector and does not cover all grounds of discrimination.” (p.4); The Committee “recommends that the State Party review the Prevention of Discrimination Act of 1997 and other relevant laws with a view to bringing them into full conformity with Article 2 of the ICESCR.” (p.4) and “the Committee recommends  that the State Party repeal the criminalization of same sex relations between consenting adults and cross-gender dressing. It also recommends that the State party provide effective protection for LGBTI persons against any form of discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation.” (p.5)

Patrick in her presentation discussed issues affecting LGBT persons as it relates to the right to education and the right to work. She noted cases where LGBT persons were discriminated against because there are no mechanisms and policies to protect them in the education system and workplace. As it relates to the right to work, the Committee, through the Ccluding Observations, recommends that the State party take all necessary measures to collect disaggregated statistical data necessary to assess the employment and labor market situations and to review and implement effective labor policies.” (p.5). As it relates to education, the Committee, recommends that State party “take all necessary measures and to enhance information and education on sexual and reproductive health inter alia, through including them in the school curricula in accordance with the evolving capacities of children and adolescents, as well as in informal education” (p.9). Additionally, “the Committee is concerned at the drain of skilled workforce, particularly in the areas of healthcare and education and its negative impact on the enjoyment of the relevant rights by the people in the State Party.” (p.6)

Gorishek presented on the right to the highest attainable standard of health. He noted the recommendation that there made to the UN CESCR through the Stakeholder Report and also the concluding observations that were recommended by the Committee. “The Committee recommends that the State party intensify its efforts to improve the availability, accessibility and quality of healthcare services, including the mental health sector.” (p.9);  “that the State party take all necessary measures to combat the epidemics of malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS; and to remove obstacles to access sexual and reproductive health care services, including through sensitizing healthcare professionals….” (P.9); “the Committee is concerned at the drain of skilled workforce, particularly in the areas of healthcare and education and its negative impact on the enjoyment of the relevant rights by the people in the State Party.” (p.6)

After the presentations, the discussion around the table included the need for quantitative data on the cases of LGBT discrimination, the recent cross-dressing case, the issue of mental health and the need for the health system to be more equipped and prepared to deal with LGBTI issues, the importance of working with police to address the re-victimization of LGBTI persons.

In his closing remarks, Simpson urged the APNU-AFC administration to keep its 2015 elections manifesto promise to address discrimination based on sexual orientation by implementing the specific recommendations in CESCR's Concluding Observations as an immdiate priority.

To read SASOD's Stakeholder Report, click here.