Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
In January police shot and killed Marlon Fredericks, a mentally ill man. Police alleged Fredericks was killed as he attempted to escape custody. The officer was charged, and the prosecution was in progress as of November.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices. There were allegations, nonetheless, that prison officials mistreated inmates as well as claims that police tortured suspects and detainees.
In July, Jameek Hakim alleged police tortured him during an interrogation. The government’s investigation of Hakim’s allegations continued as of October.
In January the government charged a police officer for raping a minor in August 2017. The minor was in police custody at the time of the incident. The case against the police officer was in progress as of November.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: In October the Guyana Prison Service reported there were 2,216 prisoners in eight facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,505. Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the total prison population.
In May the government released the findings of a 2017 independent study funded by the Inter-American Development Bank that found prison officers physically abused prisoners. The government reported the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent found that prison conditions at the Lusignan Prison were appalling and cells were unfit for human habitation. Prisoners reported unsanitary conditions and a lack of potable water, and they also complained of lengthy confinement in their cells with limited opportunities for sunlight.
The adult prison population contained individuals 16 years of age and older. In most cases, however, offenders under the age of 16 were held in a juvenile correctional center that offered primary education, vocational training, and basic medical care.
Administration: Authorities stated they investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions monthly, and committees prepared reports after each visit. Prisoners often circumvented procedures for submitting complaints of inhuman conditions or mistreatment by passing letters addressed to government officials through family members.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted outside groups to monitor prison conditions independently. During the year the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited the Lusignan Prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The police commissioner heads the Guyana Police Force, which reports to the Ministry of Public Security and is responsible for maintaining internal security. The Guyana Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The defense force, headed by a chief of staff, falls under the purview of the Defense Board, which the president of the country chairs.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and military, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
An arrest requires a warrant issued by a court official unless an officer who witnesses a crime believes there is good cause to suspect a crime or a breach of the peace has been or will be committed. The law stipulates that a person arrested cannot be held for more than 72 hours unless brought before a court to be charged. Authorities generally observed this requirement. Bail was generally available except in cases of capital offenses and narcotics trafficking.
Although the law provides criminal detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members, authorities occasionally did not fully respect these rights. The state provides legal counsel for indigent persons only when such persons are charged with a capital offense. The Legal Aid Clinic, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), provides legal counsel at a reduced fee in certain circumstances, as determined by the clinic. Police routinely required permission from the senior investigating officer, who was seldom on the premises, before permitting counsel access to a client.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures. The average length of pretrial detention was three years for those awaiting trial at a magistrates’ court or in the High Court. This was often beyond the maximum possible sentence for the crime for which they were charged.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
Delays and inefficiencies undermined judicial due process. Shortages of trained court personnel, postponements at the request of the defense or prosecution, occasional allegations of bribery, poor tracking of cases, and police slowness in preparing cases for trial caused delays.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Cases in magistrates’ courts are tried without jury, while cases involving more serious crimes are tried by jury in the High Court. The constitution provides that a person shall be informed in detail of the nature of the offense charged as soon as reasonably practicable. Defendants have the right to a timely trial and free assistance of an interpreter. The constitution also provides for persons charged with a criminal offense to be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense. Authorities routinely granted trial postponements to both the defense and prosecution. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and confront adverse witnesses, and they may present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.
While the law recognizes the right to legal counsel, it was limited to those who could afford to pay, except in cases involving capital crimes. Although there is no formal public defender system, a defendant in a murder case that reaches the High Court may receive a court-appointed attorney. The Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, with government and private support, provided advice to persons who could not afford a lawyer, particularly victims of domestic violence and violence against women.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and the government generally respected this provision. Individuals can access the court system to initiate lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The magistrates’ courts deal with both criminal and civil matters. Delays, inefficiencies, and alleged corruption in the magistrates’ court system affected citizens’ ability to seek timely remedies in civil matters, and there was a large backlog of civil cases. Citizens have the right to appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law generally prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2015 directive from the prime minister determines that all headlines in state-owned print media be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister before publication.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 37 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported some displaced Venezuelan women experienced rights violations, including sexual exploitation, by government officials. NGOs also reported displaced Venezuelans received a lower standard of health and social care, but the government denied these reports.
In-country Movement: The law requires that local village councils grant permission in advance for travel to indigenous areas, but most individuals traveled in these areas without a permit.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for protection of asylum seekers. Although the government is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the government reported that it did not prosecute or deport Venezuelans seeking refuge. In the absence of national legislation and requisite government capacity, UNHCR assumed the main responsibility for determination of refugee status.