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… says Police actions breached Rights of the Child Convention, Constitution and Laws of Guyana
By Svetlana Marshall
The arrest and detention of a 14-year-old girl has been described by attorney Eusi Anderson as reprehensible and inhumane. Anderson in an interview with Village Voice News said that the Guyana Police Force breached the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Constitution and Laws of Guyana when it placed the child in handcuffs and kept her behind bars well beyond the 72 hours.
On Monday, December 7, 2020, Anderson, on behalf of the child’s mother, filed a writ of Habeas Corpus in the High Court for the Guyana Police Force to produce the child, and within hours that day, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George ordered that the teenager be released to her parents. In condemning the actions of the Police, the Chief Justice said the child ought not to have been placed behind bars.
The Police in a statement, had explained that the 14-year-old girl was arrested following the discovery of an 11.325 pounds of leaves, seeds and stems suspected to be cannibis at a West Ruimveldt, Georgetown home on Thursday, December 3 at around 20:30hrs.
The cannabis was discovered in a tub under a bed occupied by the teenager. But Anderson in an exclusive interview with Village Voice News on Tuesday, December 8, said his client is an upright member of society, and regardless of the allegation, her rights ought to have respected.
“This young lady has never had a criminal conviction; she has never been arrested for anything, she has never been invited to any police station for anything, to the best of my knowledge she is a star performer at school, and to the best of my knowledge she is a right and upstanding member of her community,” Anderson told Village Voice News.
Anderson said in clear breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Article 154 of the Constitution, and Laws of Guyana, the Police placed the 14-year-old girl into handcuffs at the alleged crime scene and transported her to the East La Penitence Police Station on the night of December 3, 2020, where she remained behind bars up until Monday, December 7, 2020. Hours before the Court’s ruling, the teenager was released into the custody of the Child Care and Protection Agency.
According to the Convention and the Constitution, no child shall be subjected torture, cruel or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Further, Article 37 (B) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states “no child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
Anderson said the arrest of the child was not last resort. He explained that the teenager upon being placed into custody, repeatedly asked to speak with an attorney, but her request was denied.
“My client made it clear that numerous requests were made and all of them were denied. The convention at Article 37 makes it very clear, which is incorporated into our laws in Article 154 of our Constitution that any child (a child is defined in the convention as anybody under the age of 18) who is arrested must be afforded, prompt legal access. Not discretionary legal access…prompt legal access; that was not done,” Anderson said.
Instead of acceding to her request, the Police kept the child beyond 72 hours, and it was only until Sunday, December 6, 2020, that she was allowed to speak with her Attorney.
“She was placed into a cell with adults. On Thursday night she was arrested, she slept there on a cold concrete. She was returned to that cell on the Friday night, Friday, December 4, and that was her second night sleeping under those conditions with those persons. And on Thursday, and Friday, the Sophia Juvenile Holding Facility did not report that (a), it had vanished, (b) it had a capacity issue, (c) it had burnt down or (d) it was not accepting minors on that night,” Anderson said.
He noted that it was not until the child’s mother had moved to the High Court that the Police on Monday, December 7, 2020 released the teenager into the custody of the Child Care and Protection Agency.
“To the best of my recollection, the young lady was released into the custody of the Child Care and Protection Agency around 3pm (December 7), shortly after we served the habeas corpus proceedings, and by release, I mean she was released from the police station at East La Penitence into the custody of the Child Care and Protection Agency, and subsequently transferred to the Sophia Juvenile Holding Facility,” he explained. The Chief Justice (ag) handed down her ruling at around 17:00hrs the very day. He said there is no evidence to suggest that the Police at any time protected the rights of the child.
“In fact, at the Court hearing, there was no explanation offered, apology proffered or courteous understanding as to why at the expiry of the 72 hours on Sunday afternoon, the authorities did not approach the Court for an extension of 24 hours…to facilitate their investigation,” he said while making it clear that the child ought not to have been placed in a police cell in the first place.
Anderson said the actions of the Police signal a dark time of the country’s history. “We are living in Guyana in 2020 and in my opinion, and particularly evidence by the treatment of this young lady, we are taking steps to reverse the gains we have made. These conversations, these discussions, these issues, these constitutional infractions, these are things from an era long gone,” the Attorney said.
However, he applauded the High Court for treating the matter with the level of urgency it had required. “On behalf of the family, I would like to make it very clear that we are very appreciative of the efforts of the Court. We had an action at 130pm and we had a ruling at 5pm. By any standard and in any part of the world that is remarkable,” the attorney said, while also expressing gratitude to the CCCPA for saving the child from further encroachment and infringement on her constitutional rights.
With the child preparing for CSEC in 2021, Anderson will be taking necessary steps to ensure that she receives counselling and support to ensure her success.