Commissioner Roshan Khan of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has made some stringent comments on his Commission in general, and its Chairman, John Smith, in particular. His criticism went both to the functioning of the constitutional body in fulfilling its 24-point mandate as adumbrated in Art 212B and also in its use of the funds allocated to it. This amounted to some $900M in the last seven years and most recently, Khan has called for an audit of the spending.
We agree with the position of Commissioner Khan but we believe his critique can extend to the other “Rights Commissions” that were introduced conterminously with the ERC. These were given Constitutional imprimatur in Art 212 G and are the Women and Gender Equality, Rights of the Child and Indigenous Peoples Commissions. A review of the background of the Rights of the Child Commission might illustrate our overall concern.
In response to recommendations in 2004 by the UNCRC, the Rights of the Child Commission was formed in 2009; given constitutional imprimatur, and became fully operational the following year. It replaced the National Commission on Children, which was an advisory body to the President from 1992-2009. This body received the overall directive to protect the human rights of children as adumbrated in the UNCRC and Optional Protocols. It receives receive direct funding as a constitutional body.
Its Mission statement is pellucid: “to promote the rights and interests of and respect for the views of children. 2. Ensure that the rights and interests of children are taken into account at all levels of government other public bodies and private organizations when decisions and policies affecting children are taken. 3. Monitor compliance and make recommendations for the compliance with international instruments to which the government accedes from time to time including those already acceded to and which relate to the purpose of the commission. 4. Monitor, evaluate and make recommendations on policies, procedures and practices organizations, bodies and institutions in order to promote the rights of the child.”
It recruited permanent staff, including a CEO and an investigator in 2013. The ROCC was supposed to submit annual reports to the Guyana National Assembly. But its 2014 Report is typical and shows that the body has not taken its mandate as seriously as it should: 8 of 13 pages of the report are allocated to introducing the members and Executive. Most of its activities are confined to giving speeches in public to children and only one was to brief staff of several institutions that deal with children about the Sexual Offenses Act, as it pertained to children. It said the briefing was “was premised on allegations of sexual abuse at the New Opportunity Corps (NOC)”. This institution has been perennially riddled by allegations of sexual abuse of children consigned there for correctional help, by staff and from reports in the press remains unabated.
Contra to recommendations by the UNCRC, however, boys and girls are kept in the same facility but are supposed to be separated. During the third quarter of 2014, the RCC in partnership with UNICEF, hosted a Child Participation Action Plan workshop. This workshop utilized the Child Participation Framework that was crafted in 2013 to formulate with a “National Child Participation Action Plan” (NCPAP). This Action Plan, the Report said, “will serve as a tangible blueprint and roadmap for establishing child participation in Guyana. The framework document has been shared with Members of Parliament, Government Ministers etc.”
Though this NVPAP was strongly recommended by the UNCRC so as to educate and sensitize children in becoming aware of their human rights – including those concerning sexual abuse, the latter aspect has not been stressed in the exercised mentioned in the Reports. The RCC has complained about the quantum of funding supplied by the government but have not been audited. Overall, it does not appear that this institution is fulfilling its mandate.
As proposed above, we believe investigations in all the Rights Commissions are warranted.