The Bar Association of Guyana, the recognized body representing Attorneys-at-law in Guyana, has criticized a statement by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo which sought to encourage law enforcement officers to use “creative means” to enforce the COVID-19 emergency measures issued last Friday.
According to the Bar Association, the remarks by the Prime Minister who was speaking in his capacity as Chairman of the National COVID-19 Task Force on April 4, 2020, “is reckless and ill-advised.”
The Bar Association pointed out, “His suggestion to pull persons by their ears taken together with alluding to examples he saw on social media of police officers in other countries beating persons and inflicting other public policy punishment is reckless and ill-advised.”
In a statement issued last evening, the Bar Association said it wishes to remind members of the Disciplined Services including the Guyana Police Force that as organs of the State, they are subject to the Rule of Law and the provisions of the Constitution of Guyana. The Association highlighted that it is the right of every citizen under Article 141 of the Constitution not to be subjected to inhuman and or degrading treatment.
“We further re-emphasize that the components of the right to secure protection of the law under Article 144 of the Constitution, require that a punishment be prescribed by a Court of law, after following all the hallmarks of due process. It is not the role of the Police to determine and or ascribe punishment for an alleged breach or enforcement.”
The Bar Association added, “Guyanese are human beings, not animals, and are thereby entitled to such fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution.”
It continued, “The Disciplined Services, must at all times operate within the confines law, which we expect them to so do, and cannot employ extra-judicial means in the enforcement of the ‘COVID-19 Emergency Measures’, the legality and enforceability of which we make no comment on at this time; the necessity of which we appreciate.”
Having regards the foregoing, it is calling on all Guyanese to be responsible in their conduct.
“We owe as much, as a duty to ourselves, our families, our neighbours, communities and our country as a whole. As we exercise our individual fundamental rights, this exercise is not to be in breach of our respective duties of care.”
The COVID-19 Emergency Measures place restrictions on persons and businesses. For one, with the exception of essential workers, persons are not allowed to be out in public between specific times. Measures have also been put in place to reduce crowds at weddings, funerals, religious places of worship and to also limit the number of passengers travelling in buses.
But despite this, persons and businesses continue to defy the orders.
Some bars and rum shops continue to open and minibus operators stay carrying the full quota of passengers, although they have been advised to only transport half of that number. During the press conference, the Prime Minister, who is also an Attorney-at-law, expressed that he believes with increased police presence, persons will adhere to the rules.
If this is not effective, however, he said police will have to find “creative ways” to enforce them.
Elaborating on this point, he made reference to videos from social media which show police in India beating residents for flouting the curfew orders. The Prime Minister said, “The policemen were out there with their bamboo and they were beating those guys who flouted the curfew. And this worked because the streets were cleared.”
He also said, … “This is me talking…if it’s necessary to go into the bars, if they [police] got to pull them out of the bars by their ears, I will say yes, get them out, send them home. And that’s the way to go…”
According to the Prime Minister, sending defaulters to prison is not a route being considered by government as it would put a strain on the already overcrowded jails since it can result in the sanitized prisons being contaminated by bringing in persons who have been infected with the deadly disease.