The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Guyana is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Guyana is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Guyana is a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Article 15 governs the right of assembly:
The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights or freedom of others.
Guyana has not accepted the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear complaints by individuals under the jurisdiction of the State that their rights under the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights have been violated.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 147(1) of the 1980 Constitution of Guyana guarantees the right to assemble freely but limitations may be imposed by law where it is "reasonably required in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health"; or "for the purpose or protecting the rights or freedoms of other persons".
Under the 1955 Public Order Act, notification of an assembly must be given 48 hours in advance.Art. 3(1), 1955 Public Order Act.Where notification of one assembly has been given if notification of a second is received that will be held within one half mile, the police may prohibit or restrictthe holding of the second. An appeal against such a decision may be made.Art. 3(2), 1955 Public Order Act.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
According to Article 3(4) of the 1955 Public Order Act, a Guyana police officer may disperse an assembly for which notification has not been given or which is being held in violation of restrictions imposed by the Commissioner of Police. Police Standing Order No. 18 is said to provide guidelines on police use of force but is not publicly available.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Guyana Police Standing Order No. 18 is said to provide guidelines on the use of force and firearms but is not publicly available.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Guyana has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. The issue of peaceful assembly was not addressed in Guyana's 2015 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council.
In 2012, however, the UN special rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions sent a joint communication regarding allegations of widespread acts of violence against peaceful protesters in the context of the protests carried out since 18 July 2012 in Linden, Georgetown. They noted information received according to which on 18 July 2012 a group of residents from the mining town of Linden had participated in a protest to denounce a disproportionate rise in electricity prices. It was reported that during the first day of the protests, organizers had called on residents to “march fearlessly against injustice”. According to the reports, police officers violently dispersed protesters, firing live rounds, and killing at least three persons and injuring about 20 others.
Guyana has not accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
As a result of major disturbances in Administrative Region 10 in July 2012, which resulted in three protestors being shot, a Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the President, which included three Caribbean jurists and two Guyanese jurists. The Commission of Inquiry was held over a six-month period, and although it could not conclude it was the police who shot the protestors, it recommended that compensation be provided for those who were shot as well as those who suffered losses to themselves or their properties in the violence that followed. It further called on the Guyana Police Force to review and amend police protocols with regard to public order and safety.
Views of Civil Society
Acoording to Freedom House's 2019 report on Guyana,
While police violence toward protesters has been an issue in the past, the authorities have more recently upheld the right to peaceful assembly, including in 2018. For example, Guyana’s first gay pride parade proceeded in June without incident.