UNITED NATIONS (CMC) – Guyana has provided differing positions regarding the possible discrimination of persons of African descent in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) country with government saying there are legal and constitutional mechanisms to punish people engaged in racial discrimination.
However, the International Decade for People of African Decent-Guyana (IDPADA-G), addressing the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent Assembly at the United Nations, insisted that there are threats to the livelihoods of Guyanese of African descent.
Tourism Minister Oneidge Walrond, who delivered a statement on behalf of the Government, said Georgetown has respected the rights of Afro-Guyanese.
"The Government of Guyana is committed to upholding the dignity of people of African descent through the protection of their human rights in our legal framework," she said, adding that Georgetown is keen on seeing the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent crafting a political declaration.
"Guyana is a multi-ethnic society striving to forge unity and harmony amongst our diverse peoples. We will, therefore, continue to support the work of this forum, including the elaboration of a Political Declaration on People of African Descent," Walrond told the forum.
She said with Guyana's Constitution prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race, gender and religion amongst other provisions, she made reference to the independent judiciary, which is historically proportionally represented by Afro-Guyanese, the independent Ethnic Relations Commission and the Racial Hostility Act.
But the IDPADA-G representative and attorney Nigel Hughes spoke of the organisation's own troubles with the Government, including the withholding of funds.
"The situation in Guyana reveals too many instances of State oppression and exacerbation of racial tensions. For example, the State has defunded the IDPADA-G based on its perception that the organisation held an opposing view of the Government thereby stymieing its work," Hughes told the forum.
He said that it is important that the Guyana Government establishes a national commission that commences two national assessments of the African Guyanese contribution to the development of Guyana with a view to compensation.
As it relates to the national redress for the lasting consequences of past injustices and crimes against people of African descent, Hughes said the State has demonstrated little progress in this regard through a Land Commission of Inquiry conducted in December 2018 and that only one of the recommendations has been actioned to date.
Further, Hughes told the forum that there are threats to villages purchased by freed Africans in the post-emancipation era, which have been subject to arbitrary possession by the State. He said the continued dispossession of ancestral lands has stymied growth and development in Afro villages.
"Similarly, IDPADA-G draws attention to the area of natural resources, quarrying, mining, forestry, and agriculture, and recommends that the State and international bodies address inequalities in access to permits and titles with alacrity.
"The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission has been unfairly denying quarrying concessions to African Guyanese with no course of redress," Hughes told the forum.
The mainly Indo-Guyanese backed People's Progressive Party (PPP) has often been accused of discriminating against Afro-Guyanese especially in the distribution of lands, access to jobs, awarding of multimillion-dollar contracts and preferential treatment of some businesses. The government has dismissed those accusations.