…over remarks made by Deborah Backer
The main opposition party, the PNCR, has balked at the activation of the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges to deal with comments made by Member of Parliament Deborah Backer.
According to the party, Backer was summoned by the Committee for one line in a statement she made in Parliament, “…because it is soldiers who we are worried about going to torture people”.
In a letter to the committee, three Members of Parliament of the PNCR, namely Cheryl Sampson, Danny Dave and John Austin, said this is the first time in the history of the Parliament of Guyana that a Committee of Privileges has been activated.
This, they said, is despite several incidents in the past: throwing down of the mace during the sitting of the Assembly; pelting of a drinking glass at the Speaker during a sitting of the Assembly; shoving down of law books during the sitting of the Assembly; scattering of flour on the floor during the sitting of the Assembly; scandalous remarks about the character of opposition members including the Leader of the Opposition by members of the Government benches during the sitting of the National Assembly.
The three Parliamentarians said the Parliament is exhorted to exercise this penal jurisdiction: (1) In any event as sparingly as possible; and (2) only when satisfied that to do so is essential in order to provide reasonable protection for the House, its members or its officers from improper obstruction or attempt at or threat of interference with the performance of their respective functions”.
“What then is the gravamen of the complaint which has caused this history making convening of this Committee of Privileges?”
The Parliamentarians argued that there was no immediate reprimand by the Speaker and no immediate call for an apology because there was general recognition that there was no breach of the privileges of freedom of speech.
Standing Order 32 (5) stipulates: ”If during the sitting of the Assembly a matter suddenly arises which appears to involve the privileges of the Assembly and which calls for the immediate intervention of the Assembly, the proceedings may be interrupted, save during the progress of a division, by a motion based on such matter”.
The Parliamentarians also quoted Erskine May, Parliamentary Practice, where it states that “a complaint on such a matter is entertained by the House as soon as it is raised.”
They say the procedure used to activate this Committee of Privilege, is erroneous and relates to breaches of privilege, occurring outside of the Assembly but which impacts on the Assembly. It is in this latter context that a motion is brought to the Assembly in the manner used here.
“The words expressed by the Honourable member fall miserably below the standard of a breach of privilege,” the Parliamentarians argued. Moreover, the sentiments expressed were premised on serious and repeated allegations of torture by the Army occurring before this debate – allegations which have never been addressed by the administration, they stated.
The PNCR argued that the Administration has been selective in its observance and adherence to its treaty obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or punishment.
“In all the circumstances, Member of Parliament Backer was justified in admonishing the Government to be careful that our soldiers, when representing this country abroad, do not indulge in similar practices.”
The Parliamentarians stated that the PNCR-1G fully supported the Motion approving the deployment of members of the Guyana Defence Force to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
They quoted Backer’s concluding words during that motion: “Sir, in conclusion we unhesitatingly support our soldiers and we call on the Government to honour in totality, all treaties that we have entered into as a country, including the one on torture”.
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