Friday, December 12, 2014




This statement is delivered on behalf of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). SASOD is a human rights organisation and movement dedicated to achieving equality and justice for all Guyanese, particularly those experiencing discrimination based on their sexuality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
On June 15, 2014, a submission titled, “On Devil’s Island” was made by SASOD to the 21st round of the UPR. The report focused on the situation of sexual rights in Guyana, with a special focus on LGBT persons. The statement will focus on discriminatory laws and practices that hinder and limit (1) Civil and Political Rights and (2) Economic and Social Rights in Guyana.


Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Guyana continue to be vulnerable to violence and crimes of hate that are based in homophobic and trans phobic prejudices, as the laws of Guyana that criminalize homosexuality and cross dressing remain unchanged. 

This poses a direct threat to LGBT people’s rights to life, liberty, personal security, equality, privacy, expression and protection against hate speech, as persons feel justified in meeting out ‘punishment’ to those of different sexual orientations.

In the first cycle of Guyana’s UPR, recommendations were made by Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, to:

1.      Repeal laws which criminalise sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex.

2.      Remove legislation which discriminates against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

3.      End violence and connected human rights violations committed against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity; and

4.      Repeal all legal provisions used to discriminate against LGBT persons.

The Government of Guyana noted each of these recommendations, but has, to date, failed to make any advances towards securing the Civil and Political Rights of LGBT persons.

Developments since the First Review

On September 6, 2013, Chief Justice Ian Chang issuing his ruling in the case of Quincy McEwan, Seon Clarke, Joseph Fraser, Seyon Persaud and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) vs. Attorney General of Guyana on Section 153(1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Chapter 8:02 stated that cross-dressing in a public place is an offence only if it is done for an improper purpose. 

This ruling was seen as a minor victory for transgender Guyanese, as the Chief Justice states that cross-dressing to express sexual orientation or gender identity could never be an offense. However, it still very unclear what the term “improper purpose” means.

In circumstances where it was evident that crimes of hate have resulted in the murder of homosexual and transgender persons, cases remain uninvestigated.  From 2013 – 2014, at least five such cases have been documented, and to date, they all remain unsolved. LGBT persons continue to report being attacked and assaulted in the streets but are reluctant to report these crimes to the police because they turn them away, citing the anti-LGBT discriminatory laws.

The Constitution of Guyana still does not make provision for sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination, as such, LGBT persons are forced to dwell in a repressive socio-cultural environment that often impedes their access to public spaces and services.

Although Guyana has ratified and directly incorporated into its Constitution the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees the right to privacy in Article 17, invasive laws which criminalise consensual private sexual activity between adult men are maintained.  Independent research shows that some police have used these laws as grounds for extorting men who are found in compromising positions, by making them pay bribes.

Transgender persons are particularly vulnerable to threats, discrimination and targeted violence from the police and private actors. On April 7, 2014, two transgender sex workers were injured in a drive-by shooting by assailants using pellet guns. After the matter was reported, and vital information provided, it took the police in excess of 30 days to charge the perpetrators. The matter is still being dwindling in the Georgetown Magistrates Court.

On June 15, 2014, a Government Minister, Juan Edghill, both publicly spoke out against homosexuality using hateful comments that were clearly intended to incite ill-will against LGBT persons on the local radio programme, “Hard Talk.”   Homosexuals were described as more promiscuous, disease laden and violent than ‘normal’ people. The week prior, Christian pastor, Ronald McGarrell, said that homosexuality is learnt behaviour and homosexuals should live on an island by themselves to prevent it from spreading on the same local radio programme.

The Government of Guyana should:

1.       Educate members of the uniformed forces (police, prison and army) and evaluate their performance based on their obligations in terms of non-discriminatory treatment towards marginalized groups, especially LGBT people.

2.      Investigate, and punish where necessary, discriminatory and abusive behaviour by the uniformed forces.

3.      Amend Article 149 of the Guyana Constitution to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination in order to provide legal protection for LGBT people’s right to equality and non-discrimination.

4.      Repeal Sections 351 to 353 of the Criminal Law Offenses Act Chapter 8:01 which criminalises same-sex/gender intimacy between consenting adult men in private.

5.      The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security should include training on human rights and vulnerable groups, especially LGBT people, in the curriculum for police officers training college.

6.      The Ministries of Home Affairs, Labour, Human Services and Social Security should hold constant job training on human rights and vulnerable groups, especially LGBT people, for police officers. 

7.      Repeal section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 which sanctions cross-dressing thereby facilitating arbitrary arrests, police harassment and abuse, targeted violence and other forms of discrimination against transgender people.

8.      Remove Juan Edgehill as a Government Minister and from all state 24.    Recall Juan Edgehill as a Member of Parliament as he has flagrantly incited hatred and intolerance in the public sphere in direct contravention of the Guyana constitution positions as he has blatant disregard for international human rights standards and fundamental rights and freedom in the Guyana constitution.

It should be noted that Brazil’s recommendation to eliminate discriminatory provision on legislation in Guyana was accepted in the first cycle of Guyana’s UPR. Recommendations made by Canada to ensure access to comprehensive human rights training for all prison staff were also accepted.

Access to economic and social liberties for LGBT persons continues to be a challenge, as discriminatory laws and practices remain unchanged and there are still no legal regress mechanisms available for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The government of Guyana accepted Argentina’s recommendation to adapt laws and mechanisms to combat discrimination against groups in vulnerable situations, yet LGBT people face higher  levels of unemployment, underemployment, and if employed are paid lower wages, denied promotions and are forced to perform tasks outside of their job descriptions or are not adequately paid if they work over time.

These discriminatory workplace practices oftentimes go unreported because the LGBT people have no legal protection from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. This directly impacts the abilities of LGBT persons to access housing.

Independent researchers have documented the struggles of LGBT Guyanese to access housing on the rental market. The evidence suggests that landlords, like employers, are biased.

The existence of these discriminatory laws in Guyana has contributed to the barriers LGBT people face accessing healthcare. LGBT persons continue to face high levels of stigma and discrimination from healthcare workers and auxiliary staff which deters them from visiting hospitals and other health facilities. 

Reports have found that HIV prevalence rates are higher among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender persons in countries with these punitive laws. Despite experiencing a reduction in HIV cases annually, the incidence of HIV still remains vexingly high for vulnerable groups, especially MSM and transgender people, who face these social barriers to accessing healthcare.

In Guyana, children who may identify as being LGBT or are perceived to be, are often labeled with pejoratives, suffer extreme violence and discrimination in schools and other childcare institutions because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Further, because of the homophobic views of many teachers, LGBT students are unable to report incidents of abuse to teachers as they, the victims, are sometimes punished instead of the offenders.

The so-called “Modern Education Bill” introduced to Parliament on June 20, 2014 did not include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination in its non-discrimination clause. Under the Bill, if a person or body refuses admission or expels any eligible student based on discriminatory grounds relating to the student or parent, the penalty on summary conviction is GYD 50,000. The draft law listed the discriminatory grounds as race, religion, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, status or physical disability.

Additionally, while Guyana subscribes to both the CARICOM and the LAC regional declaration ‘prevention through education,’ the current Health and Family Life Curriculum (HFLE) implemented in schools, adopts a very hetero normative approach to teaching about sex and sexuality. The programme does not provide comprehensive information on sexuality and gender and it does not provide students with adequate information on how to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, infections and unwanted pregnancy, if they are LGBT, and/or sexually active.

The Government of Guyana should:

1.      Amend section 4 of the Prevention of Discrimination Act, Chapter 99:09, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination in employment, training and recruitment.

2.      Conduct continuous sensitivity training of healthcare workers on providing optimum care to LGBT clients.

3.      Ensure all healthcare facilities adopt policies which unequivocally prohibit discrimination of all of persons accessing healthcare and have measures in place to sanction persons who violate these regulations.

The Ministry of Education should:

1.      Implement mechanisms for reporting and redress where teachers and other public servants who abuse children in their care, including because of their real or perceived SOGI, are held accountable for their misconduct.

2.      Review the Sex and Sexuality theme in the HFLE curriculum, and incorporate objective information on sexual orientation and gender identity. 
Include training in the Cyril Potter Teachers College curriculum on managing “conflicting values” and understanding sexuality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and bodily diversity.

No comments: