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Copyright ©2014 Parliament of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

Restriction on the Right to Assembly

Hits: 3301 | Published Date: 09 Aug, 2012
| Speech delivered at: 28th Sitting - Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Hon. Mabel Baveghems, MP

Mrs. Baveghems: Cde. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on this motion. If it pleases you I rise to make my contribution and to lend support to my colleagues on this side of the House on the motion ‘Restriction on the Right to Assembly.’ Freedom of peaceful assemble is a fundamental human right which can be enjoyed and exercised by individuals and groups, unregistered associations, legal entities and co-op bodies. Assemblies may serve many purposes including the expression of diverse unpopular or minority opinions. It can be an important strand in the maintenance and development of culture and in the preservation of minority identities. The protection of the freedom to peaceful assembly is crucial to creating a tolerant and purist society in which group s with different beliefs, practices or policies can exist peacefully.
Article 147 (2) has four instances in which the right to freely assemble and associate may be circumcised. I can only see the first two as being reasons why the Government would want to prevent persons from assembling outside of Parliament. One, because it is reasonably required in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health and/or because it is reasonably required for the purpose of protecting the rights or freedom of other persons.
Cde. Speaker, let me say that I am a born Guyanese; I married a Guyanese. I did not have to be married to somebody else to become a Guyanese so I could not gone out there to protest as the comrade on the other side was tell me, that I used to be out there. I had to be out there. It is my fundamental right. It is my democratic right to be out there. If need be I would do it all over again. [Interruption] The Honourable Cheddi married Janet for her to become a Guyanese.
Like the speaker before me the Hon. Nadir said that children could see. Children could see what? The other night I was watching television and it was after 11 0”clock when the last speaker Dr. Ashni Singh finished talking they cut off the broadcast. I did not see anyone else speak. Only their members. Channel 65, 11 and the others only showing their PPP/C people. They are not showing the other side. No one is seeing Mr. Khemraj or Mr. Nagamootoo.
The Member said also that things got better. What better things have gotten. Things have gotten worse. He talked about stopping people from accessing Parliament but that is a “lie”. Excuse me, I do not think I could use the word “lie”. That is untruth.
Persons come and go and the police stop them. In President Burnham’s time, that you all talk so bad of, we used to walk straight through; cars used to pass through, buses used to pass and no one ever stop anyone.[Interruption]Probably he was not in the country that time, he must have been somewhere studying. I could remember us being under that tree, if that tree could talk, thousands of persons used to be under that tree listening to the broadcast. President Burnham was a man of democracy. He had speakers out there because we had no television at that time, so we could have heard all that was going on. When you say that the children could see, the children cannot see anything. We have to tell the children. What they saw though, was when the former President threw the writ over her shoulder, they saw that. And you say that it was bad, it was not bad. If she did not take the position as President she might have been alive today.
Mr. Speaker: Okay, let us move on.
Mrs. Baveghems: The persons who are trying to assemble outside of Parliament are not doing so to infringe on the rights of others or to disrupt public safety and order. They are doing so to express their right to freely assemble for the purpose of peaceful demonstrations and protest. This freedom must be enjoyed by all equally and the Government must not discriminate on any basis. It must be remembered that Martin Goolsarran, Mohamed Sattaur and others were freely allowed to assemble and protest the budget cuts outside of Parliament Building. We submit that any restrictions on the right to assemble must be firmly grounded in law and be proportional and none discriminatory. What the Government can do is to require advance notification so that it can put measures in place to facilitate the peaceful assemble and to protect public safety, order and the rights of others.
I would recommend that the Government need the guidelines of Freedom of Peaceful Assemble, prepared by the panel of experts on Freedom of Assemble of the office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in consultation with the European Commission for democracy through law, the Venice Commission or the Council of Europe. Guidelines can be found on www.venice.coe.int. I will leave with you two of the guidelines that I find very helpful:
“As a fundamental right, freedom of peaceful assemble should in so far as possible be enjoyed without regulation. Anything not expressly forbidden in law should be presumed to be permissible and those wishing to assemble should not be required to obtain permission to do so. A presumption in favour of the freedom should be clearly and explicitly established in law. The State’s positive objection facilitates the protest peaceful assemble.
It is the primary responsibility of the State put in place adequate mechanisms and procedures to ensure that the freedom of assembly enjoyed in practice and not subject to undue bureaucratic regulations. In particular, the State should always seek to facilitate and protect public assemblies at the organiser’s preferred location, and should also ensure that efforts to disseminate information to publicized forthcoming assemblies are not impeded.”
Over the years, opposition supporters, social groups, among others, have been denied interactive access to the Parliament Building during sittings, because of the present sighting of the barricades. It should be noted that these citizens have a story to tell and need an audience with us, thus they have choose their avenue to protest and we must listen and not denied them.
Today, we seek change, a change that can be beneficial to all Guyanese by allowing them to be more intricate in the workings of our Parliament. Hence, by removing the barricades, we are helping to bridge the gap with the MP’s and the people they serve. According to the Commissioner of Guyana, Article 47 which states that:
“Except with his or her own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of assemble, association and freedom to demonstrate peacefully. That is to say, his or her right to assemble freely, to demonstrate peacefully and to associate with other persons and in particular, to form or belong to political parties, trade unions or other associations for the protection of his or her interest.”
Parliament is a focus for protest and nowhere is the question of how to balance competing rights more accurate than in the streets here under Parliament Building. For a Parliament to be opened means, most obviously, that its proceedings are physically open to the public. This is not always straight forward in an age when the security of people and public figures is a present concerns. Yet, many Parliaments have found it possible to strike a balance between openness and security in such a way that Parliament is manifestly seen in belonging to the people as a whole and not just to its Members.
Peaceful protest is a vital part of a democratic society. It can be a very powerful campaign tool and many of its rights and freedom we enjoy today were gained because people were prepared to go out on the streets and protest. I dare say that there is no better place to have your protest heard than at the seat of power, the Parliament. Why blockade them with barricades?
Further, we should give them a hearing. I have looked at a couple of countries and their laws as it relates to restriction of rights to assemble:
United States of America – “Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peacefully to assemble.”
The above-mentioned is oftentimes referred to as the Freedom of Association to us. It is part of the first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America (USA) and protects the right to assemble in peace to all Americans. This law has often been used in American history by groups that want to affect social change, such as, Civil Rights groups, women suffrage, the right to vote groups and labour unions. Using this right, people have been able to meet together to further the common goals. Furthering the goals might include such things as: organising the efforts, marching, picketing or gathering in public places.
It must be noted that the right to assemble is not an absolute right. They are some restrictions on this right as they are with other rights. The right to assemble is not as strongly protected by the Government as other rights such as, the Freedom of Speech. This is because groups that assemble often do so not with just speech, but with some type of conduct such as picketing, protesting, marching or gathering in a park, which may disrupt the peace. The courts have ruled that while it is the responsibility of the Government to protect the peoples’ right to assemble, it is also the Government’s responsibility to keep the peace. Because of this, the courts have allowed Governments to make reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of these assembles. Hence, the Government may place restrictions on the right to assemble that will maintain law and order, facilitate traffic, protect private property and reduce noise congestion. Nevertheless, these must not be seen as creating a divide between those who are to be served and those who are elected to serve.
I remember as a child and I heard the former Speaker talked about seeing the white soldiers coming and marching up and down and shooting at people. When I saw those things happening in my country as a small girl, I decided that when I got big, I will not tolerate those types of things in my country and I grew up with that. That is why I am what I am, because I am fighting for the rights for me, you, my children, your children, the grandchildren and your grandchildren’s children. Then when I came here and looked, I stood up and looked at Parliament Building: Who do I see? That great man Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow who had a lot to do with protest and street demonstration for the workers’ rights. I take pictures and sometimes he tells me, “Joan, go for it. I am gone, but you continue.” That is why I go.
I could remember too on the 6th of December, 2011 I was not going to protest, I was going to see my niece and as soon as the officer saw me he said, “Look at she, she old so-so, always deh pun protest. Shoot them man, shoot them.” I was not going anywhere to protest, because that day I was not feeling well to walk. I could remember too when this Parliament was sitting at the Ocean View International Hotel, the man who is now the highest ranking police officer in this country lift me up and threw me down.
Mr. Speaker: Okay.
Ms. Baveghems: When I went the hospital the doctor said that he heard I got a trashing. And when he gave me the medication I threw it away. Then when I came here the other day, outside there, there was a sitting of the National Assembly - that was before I was a Parliamentarian - a police officer, in his khaki clothes, a high ranked officer, collected me and nearly stripped me on the pave.      [Members: What!]       Yes, he nearly stripped me off right by the gate there.
Mr. Speaker: Mrs. Baveghems we do not need the details.
Mrs. Baveghems: Asking me what I was doing there.
Mr. Speaker: We do not need the details.
Mrs. Baveghems: You see that is protest. I am fighting for my rights and I am not getting the right treatment. According to the Peaceful Assemble Act 212which was recently declared:
“It regulates public protest and allows citizens to organise and participate in assembles, peaceable and without harms.”
The Government has stated that the law is subject... In concluding, I would like to say that I support the motion and hope that when we return, after the recess, we will see no barriers there. [Applause]

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