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I wish to add my voice to the Guyana Bar Association’s (GBA) call for the government to withdraw immediately, the proposed amendment to the Police Act by way of the Police (Amendment) Bill No. 8 of 2021, which would permit the taking of DNA samples from any person who might be in lawful custody. The GBA has addressed the issue quite adequately in their statement, as such, the only point I wish to add is that if this happens, it would be a highly regressive step for Guyana, and it is an extremely troubling development indeed.
Nevertheless, this is more a specific matter; the broader issue, which is being addressed, is the increasing tensions between International Investment Law and International Human Rights Law or rather the tensions between international investment norms and international human rights obligations in the current Guyana context. One of the reasons for the increase in this tension, is the new Oil and Gas industry.
Some of these tensions are more evident, for example, in the absence of the swift necessary Amendments to the Environmental Protection Act Chapter 20:05. This Act needs to be upgraded to address tensions relative to international and general investment norms, in the light of a ‘booming’ oil and gas industry, with environmental and social norms. Other tensions are obvious in our governance, management, and administration.
As one assesses the behaviour of our government – current and previous, and approaches to governance, particularly since the emergence of the oil and gas industry, there is a consistent trend which points to this tension being increased. The government is no doubt pushing its investment agenda, however, there are also human rights obligations which must somehow be balanced with investment norms.
The time has come for us to examine how we can reduce these tensions in a more comprehensive and structured way, as a key factor for enabling good governance and sustainable development. In developed countries such as, the Unites States of America (USA), Canada, Australia, and Norway, among others, these tensions have been and are being addressed through legislation, policy and in a more functional sense, through institutional strengthening (Systems and structures) and development of relevant capacities and capabilities within these institutions.
Questions which ought to be examined in the Guyana context are: What are the human rights obligations for Guyana relative to the international investment treaties or Agreements generally, and more specifically, relative to the oil and gas industry? What are the potential conflicts under the human rights covenant and our trade and investments treaties? What should be done where such conflicts are found? How can human rights and investment norms, in the case of Guyana, be harmonized?
Other areas to be addressed are making the necessary adjustments to the legal system and policies to encourage rights-compliant investment. Investor education and awareness initiatives on how foreign investors can be more compliant with human rights obligations which are applicable to international investment projects in Guyana. Based on our choices, Guyana can become one of the best of the resource-rich countries or one of the worse.
Finally, I would like to highlight the importance of ‘Voice and Accountability’ in reducing the tensions between international investment norms and human rights norms. The civil; society sector has an important role in mitigating these tensions, in some ways – The media, some civil society groups, and individual activists and advocates have been doing a commendable job, however, more needs to be done at the legislative, institutional and governance levels, etc.