Guyana

Last Updated 28 September 2020

The Co-operative Republic of Guyana is a sovereign state on the Caribbean coast of South America. A former British colony, Guyana gained independence in 1966, however, Christian-Anglican inspired morals imposed during the colonial period continue to influence Guyanese society today and Christianity is afforded relative privilege on matters of public morality.

As of 2012, 64% of the population are Christian, of which the majority are of protestant denominations. Hinduism represents the second largest religious group, comprising 24.8% of the population. Muslims account for 6.8% of the population while non-believers are said to make up 3.1%.1https://statisticsguyana.gov.gy/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Final_2012_Census_Compendium2.pdf Guyana’s two largest ethnic groups – the Afro-Guyanese (descended from African slaves) and the Indo-Guyanese (predominantly descendants of East Indian indentured laborers) account for 69.1% of the population and have been historically represented by two major political parties along their majority ethnic composition – The Peoples’ Progressive Party/Civic and the Peoples’ National Congress (now part of the APNU+AFC coalition party).2https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gy.html

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

While Chapter 1:01 of the Constitution3https://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic2_guy_constitution.pdf affirms that Guyana is a secular state, the preamble of the Constitution contains the phrase “May God protect our people”.

Article 145 of the Constitution protects citizens’ freedom of conscience stating:

“Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this article the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

Further articles within the Constitution and other laws and policies enshrine the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, place of origin, political opinions, color or creed.

The country’s two largest parties represent the country’s largest ethnic groups, and thereby their traditional religious values. The Peoples’ Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) supported by the Indo-Guyanese community, who typically uphold Hindu values, and the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) – supported typically by those of Afro-Guyanese descent, who typically uphold Christian values.4https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-15905484; https://statisticsguyana.gov.gy/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Final_2012_Census_Compendium2.pdf

In the lead up to the March 2020 elections, new parties emerged,5https://freedomhouse.org/country/guyana/freedom-world/2020 at least one of which, the People’s Republic Party campaigned on an explicitly Christian platform.6http://www.caribbeanelections.com/eDocs/manifestos/gy/prp_manifesto_2020.pdf In August 2020, Irfaan Ali of the PPP/C was sworn in as Guyana’s 10th Executive President.7https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-53637085

The National Assembly recites a prayer derived from British colonial times and adapted with a view to accommodate different religious groups.8https://parliament.gov.gy/parliamentcorner/detail/national-assemblys-prayer

Article 212 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of an Ethnic Relations Commission with the purpose of promoting harmony between different ethnic groups, including encouraging “respect for religious, cultural and other form (sic) of diversity in a plural society” (Article 212D(f)). The entity embraces religious diversity and cultural inclusion. However, over the years, the organization is faced with reports of growing ethnic tensions during election cycles and has held political leaders responsible.9https://demerarawaves.com/2020/07/20/ethnic-relations-commission-investigating-more-racially-inciting-complaints/

Part V of Chapter 8:01 (Criminal Law Offences)10https://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic2_guy_criminal_law_act.pdf outlines “offences against religion, morality, and public convenience”, which include ‘blasphemous libel’ (see below), obstruction of the performance of a religious service, disturbing a congregation or preacher. Each are punishable with prison sentences ranging from six months to one year.

Education and children’s rights

Article 145(3) of the Constitution states that:

“Except with his own consent (or, if he is a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years, the consent of his guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion which is not his own.”

Under Article 145(2) of the Constitution, “no religious community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.” It does not make reference to non-theist communities.

There are both public and private religiously affiliated schools. Parents are free to send their children to the school of their choice. Religious education is compulsory in all private schools with a religious affiliation. All students attending a private school of religious affiliation must participate in religious education, regardless of a student’s religious beliefs. There is no religious education in public schools, regardless of whether the school is religiously affiliated. Most public schools’ religious affiliations are Anglican or Methodist.11https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/guyana/

However, a Christian-orientated prayer that is premised on monotheism is often recited in public schools.12https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2015/10/20/government-to-review-christian-prayers-in-public-schools/ In 2015, the then Minister for Education, proposed a “universal prayer” to replace Christian prayers practised in public schools.13https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2015/12/23/consultations-on-a-universal-prayer-for-public-schools-underway/ As of 2018, it appeared that Christian prayers may still have been being practised in at least some schools regardless of the individual student’s beliefs,14https://guyanatimesgy.com/complete-separation-of-religion-and-education/ in violation of provisions within the Constitution.

Family, community and society

Discrimination

According to Freedom House, laws barring discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and other categories are not effectively enforced.15https://freedomhouse.org/country/guyana/freedom-world/2020 Women face particular discrimination in the workplace, while indigenous communities continue to face disparities in access to healthcare, education and justice.16https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24826&LangID=E; http://www.forestpeoples.org/en/node/50447; https://www.iwgia.org/en/guyana/3623-iw-2020-guyana.html

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are not currently protected under the Prevention of the Discrimination Act,17https://www.stabroeknews.com/2020/02/05/news/guyana/lgbtq-community-seeks-repeal-of-gay-sex-laws-protection-from-discrimination/ and as such the LGBTQ+ community face considerable discrimination in the country. Under articles 351-353 of Chapter 8:01 (Criminal Law Offences), sex between men is criminalized. While men convicted of committing an act of ‘gross indecency’ may be liable to imprisonment of up to two years, the crime of ‘buggery’ is considered a felony punishable by life imprisonment.18https://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic2_guy_criminal_law_act.pdf However, in practice, such laws appear to be used by police to intimidate and prosecutions are rare.19https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/guyana/ The country’s first Pride march took place in July 2018; the same year in which colonial-era law banning cross-dressing was struck down.20https://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/11/14/guyana-law-that-criminalizes-cross-dressing-struck-down/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression and media freedom are guaranteed by the Constitution and generally respected in practice.In its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Guyana 49 of 180, noting that while freedom of the press is largely guaranteed, the ongoing criminalization of defamation, as well as the appointment of the head of the media regulatory authority by the president remain cause for concern.21https://rsf.org/en/guyana

The government largely respects freedoms of assembly and association, and nongovernmental organizations operate freely.22https://freedomhouse.org/country/guyana/freedom-world/2020

Blasphemous libel

The law requires a prison term of one year for a blasphemous libel conviction, with an exemption for religious expression made in “good faith and decent language”. The government does not appear to enforce the law.23https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/guyana/

References   [ + ]

1. https://statisticsguyana.gov.gy/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Final_2012_Census_Compendium2.pdf
2. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gy.html
3. https://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic2_guy_constitution.pdf
4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-15905484; https://statisticsguyana.gov.gy/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Final_2012_Census_Compendium2.pdf
5, 15, 22. https://freedomhouse.org/country/guyana/freedom-world/2020
6. http://www.caribbeanelections.com/eDocs/manifestos/gy/prp_manifesto_2020.pdf
7. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-53637085
8. https://parliament.gov.gy/parliamentcorner/detail/national-assemblys-prayer
9. https://demerarawaves.com/2020/07/20/ethnic-relations-commission-investigating-more-racially-inciting-complaints/
10, 18. https://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic2_guy_criminal_law_act.pdf
11, 23. https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/guyana/
12. https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2015/10/20/government-to-review-christian-prayers-in-public-schools/
13. https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2015/12/23/consultations-on-a-universal-prayer-for-public-schools-underway/
14. https://guyanatimesgy.com/complete-separation-of-religion-and-education/
16. https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24826&LangID=E; http://www.forestpeoples.org/en/node/50447; https://www.iwgia.org/en/guyana/3623-iw-2020-guyana.html
17. https://www.stabroeknews.com/2020/02/05/news/guyana/lgbtq-community-seeks-repeal-of-gay-sex-laws-protection-from-discrimination/
19. https://www.humandignitytrust.org/country-profile/guyana/
20. https://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/11/14/guyana-law-that-criminalizes-cross-dressing-struck-down/
21. https://rsf.org/en/guyana

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