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Abuse of human rights likely in “vague” anti-terrorism law, GHRA warns

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) Wednesday night slammed government for seeking to rush anti-terrorism legislation through the National Assembly that it warned could open up ordinary citizens to abuse by authorities if they are perceived a terrorist threat.

“In its present state this Bill would allow the State to perpetrate serious violations of due process and fair trial rights and should not be allowed to pass into law,” said the association in a statement.

The Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist Related Activities Bill No.16 of 2015, for instance, says a terrorist act is one that is “likely to cause prejudice to national security” as well as “is intended to compel a Government to do or refrain from doing an act or to intimidate the public or a section thereof.”

“The language regarding “prejudice to national security” is also too vague and capable of abuse. The additional inclusion of acts which are likely merely “to cause damage to property” is also unacceptably vague,” added the decades-old GHRA.

According to the association, some of the draconian features in the anti-terrorism Bill are not justified and that several of the vague definitions means a wide range of acts can be considered support for terrorism or fall under the duty of disclosure.

The Association stated that more than ten  new terrorist-related offences attract the death penalty, while ‘life imprisonment’ is defined as “for the remainder of the natural life of the offender”. “This definition is incorrect. It should not be adopted either as a discretionary or mandatory definition of life imprisonment. This definition is also internally contradictory in the Bill.”

Expressing shock, the GHRA condemned government’s intention to rush the passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist-Related Activities Bill 2015 on Thursday, allowing less than two days for parliamentarians to analyse the 107-page proposed law. That, the association said, ran counter to a call to the Attorney General’s Chambers in July 2015 for the draft to be subjected to fuller public comment and reaction by Guyanese as well as a formal assessment, perhaps from one of the United Nations’ technical agencies.

The association noted that the GHRA’s submission to the Attorney General’s Chambers, which benefitted from local and overseas expertise, included more than 30 amendments none of which has been included in the Bill. “Not one of the recommendations from the GHRA submission has merited inclusion in the draft Bill to be debated tomorrow,” added the GHRA.

One suggestion by the association to replace the vague formulations could be found in the Terrorism Financing Convention: It states (a)        any … act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.

The GHRA said “on the positive side” the definition also includes reference to certain clauses of the international counter-terrorism conventions, as well an exclusionary clause which excludes from the definition, inter alia, acts “committed in furtherance of a demonstration, protest”, etc., but these features may not be sufficient to remedy the vagueness  of the two elements of the core definition.  

The GHRA recommended that that the Guyana governmentinclude a Section in the Anti-Terrorism Bill to provide for the establishment of “an Advisory Committee on Human Rights and Terrorism”.  “Such a committee would advise on the implementation of the eventual Act and could be led by a senior judge, including among others, representatives from civil society.”