NGO lays groundwork for Hate Crimes legislation lobby

Last Updated on Friday, 24 March 2023, 21:59 by Denis Chabrol

Second from left: GEF General Manager Joel Simpson; Chief of the Guyana Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, Colin Klautky and Head of Sigismund Consultancy Inc; Attorney-at-Law Rosemary Benjamin-Noble.

The non-governmental Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) said Friday’s release of a report titled ‘Hate Crimes Reform’ marked the start of an intensive lobby for legislation to punish persons who perpetrate hatred against others based on their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and race.

“Hate crime legislation should also reflect a sufficiently broad range of protected characteristics to ensure protection for key targeted communities in Guyana,” the document states. In light of limited resources of the police and prosecutors, the experts recommended model hate crimes legislation that is simple to understand, investigate and prosecute to help ensure that it is used and effective in practice.

The report was supported by the Human Dignity Trust, a legal charity that provides technical legal assistance to governments and civil society organisations seeking to reform discriminatory sexual offence laws and enact hate crime legislation.

Already, the GEF report recommends that Guyana repeal any discriminatory legislation, including sections 351 to 353 of the Criminal Law Offences Act that outlaws the sale of pornographic material and objects on the grounds that they are “tending to corrupt public morals”, males committing acts of gross indecency with other males, buggery and indecent acts. “Male victims of homophobic hate crime are therefire placed in a position where this law could be invoked against them. The fact that the laws remain on the books, GEF warns that that they create an intimidatory environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer+ persons to report hate crime. That “raises real risks that they may suffer discrimination at the hands of the police who possibly view them as unapprehended criminals, rather than victims if they report a hate crime committed against them.”

Further, the report says it is possible for the Criminal Law Offences Act be amended to provide for summary, indictable or either category of hate crime offences. That recommendation also states that current court procedures can be applied to hate crime offences and no changes will be required.

The report finds that generally there is a dearth of hate crime legislation in the Caribbean where many countries have such offences embedded in anti-discrimination protections. Notably, Belize’s draft Criminal Code Amendment Bill will be a regional precedent for hate crimes legislation that protects membership of a religious group, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and sex.’

Touching on the area of prosecutorial enforcement  and implementation of hate crime legislation, the 43-page report recommends that police prosecutors seconded to the Director of Public Prosecutions handle hate crime cases because of their sensitive nature and the need to prove not only the base offence but potential elements of the crime. While the Director of Public Prosecutions provides ongoing training to State Counsel and police prosecutors on new legislation and refresher training on existing legislation, including on the requirements for proving the elements of offences, the GEF says police will have to be trained to investigate hate crimes. “There are currently no police policies with respect to hate crimes. Members of the Guyana Police Force will require specialised training to recognise and effectively investigate hate crime offences and how to gather evidence to prove, for example, that a person was targeted based on race, religion, disability, sex, gender sexual orientation or gender identity,” the report states.

GEF’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson told a news conference that a wide variety of stakeholders, excluding institutional political parties but including politicians, were interviewed to gather data about the extent of various types of hate crimes.

On the issue of race-based politically motivated hate crimes, he expected political parties to be committed to eschewing race rather than merely giving lip service. “We expect them to be committed to the process of championing legislation. They all say that they are against racism but many, especially during the electoral period, are very much guilty of race-baiting and using race and ethnicity in a divisive way in their own politics,” said Mr Simpson, the founder of Guyana’s first gay and lesbian rights organisation. He called on political leaders to set examples by being involved in “meaningful, genuine” public education.

The report was authored by Pere De Roy, a Guyanese doctoral student  in the Women, Gender and Sexuality programme at the University of Kansas; Regius Chair of Law and the Joint Director of Research for the School of Law at the Scotland-based University of Glasgow, and Sigismund Consultants Inc; a legal consultancy company led by Attorney-at-Law Rosemary Benjamin-Noble.

The GEF says it is a network of civil society groups working cohesively to achieve equal rights and justice for all people in Guyana