When Guyana’s authorities appear this week before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), they should be made to account for ExxonMobil’s reckless burning of over nine billion cubic feet of gas for more than six months say two transparency advocates.
Justice Institute Guyana (JIG) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) are both arguing that Guyana’s officials need to be grilled on ExxonMobil’s flaring as it poses a threat to the right to life, in addition to other oil developments and potential consequences. Kaieteur News would have reported that ExxonMobil’s projects could lead to oil spills that would inflict grave environmental harm along the coastal region and even on Guyana’s regional and continental neighbours.
In offering her take on this matter, CIEL’s Senior Attorney, Erika Lennon remarked that Guyana started the clock on a carbon bomb when it started oil production in December last year. She said that the immense gas flaring seen over the last months is merely the first sign of the harm to come. Lennon said too, that the emissions that will be unlocked by the extraction and burning of Guyana’s vast offshore oil and gas reserves, and the risk of an oil spill or blowout, threaten the rights to life and livelihoods of present and future generations in Guyana.
Along with the dangers associated with the ExxonMobil’s development activities, CIEL and the JIG are also concerned about the fact that Guyana’s 2020 elections are yet to be concluded. They have also noted that the struggle to hold on to power is fueled by the false promise of oil riches. Expounding further, the two transparency bodies said that it is more than 100 days after the country went to the polls, and it is still waiting for a transition to a democratic government. The transparency advocates recalled that, last week, Guyana’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield unilaterally discarded more than a quarter of all votes cast in the election, prompting widespread condemnation both inside Guyana and from the international community.
Taking this into consideration, international lawyer, Melinda Janki, who represents the Justice Institute, said it is clear that oil production threatens the right to life of present and future generations. Janki opined as well that it undermines democracy and the right of the Guyanese people to take part in public affairs through freely chosen representatives rather than representatives chosen as a result of unlawful conduct by government agents.
In this regard, Janki said that the various attempts by Clairmont Mingo, the Returning Officer for Region Four and by Lowenfield to declare fraudulent results are an egregious violation of the free expression of the will of the Guyanese electors. Janki said that these latest developments add to concerns that after being delayed nearly a year, the declaration of election results in Guyana will be fraudulent and will disenfranchise the Guyanese people, in violation of their rights under domestic and international law.
In agreement with her colleague, Lennon said that the dual environmental and democratic crises the country faces are critical issues that the authorities must be made to address when they face the UNHRC this week.
Kaieteur News understands that the body meeting this week is tasked with monitoring countries’ implementation of their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Its review of Guyana’s human rights record follows on the heels of similar monitoring conducted by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in July 2019, and a peer review undertaken by other member states in the UN Human Rights Council in January 2020.
Those processes highlighted concerns that Guyana’s pivot to an economy based on large-scale fossil fuel extraction will undermine human rights and the country’s existing commitments to combat climate change, noting, in particular, the disproportionate impacts of global warming on women and children in the country.
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