Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Former Guyana Chief Justice Massiah Has It All Wrong On The Corporal Punishment Issue

Dear Editor,

I have read the treatment by Keith Massiah, S.C. (SN 7/01/07: “The Convention has by operation of law effectively abolished corporal punishment in schools”) and must now offer my considered rebuttal. That editorial caption to that letter is unfortunate, and, the narrow technical focus and conclusion in Massiah’s opinion is very troubling, especially since Massiah apparently ignores the fact that the original framers of the CRC never alluded to "corporal punishment" at all. Before lamenting the “possible benefits” that the Convention “may” provide, Massiah may well consider that it is the CRC itself that should be assessed for its “jurisprudential content, its purpose and range”. That the NCRC has got away with unchallenged advocacy thus far is more of a testament to the inactivity of some social institutions in Guyana than to anything novel or innovative offered by the CRC. I submit that there is a wilful ignorance of the attendant issues, or the far-reaching consequences, of the NCRC mandate.

Guyana’s accession to the Convention on the Rights of The Child is not under doubt, but surely our interpretations of specific aspects of the convention are. It would be an act of folly for parliamentarians not to now scrutinize the detail of the CRC and its operation elsewhere. Parliament may not be “supreme” in one sense, but our parliamentarians can and should wield the decisive unifying force necessary to dismantle any constitutional structures that support or threaten anarchy. We owe it to the government and people of Guyana, as well as the church (because of its anti-Bible implications), to ask this question: What, exactly, are Guyana 's "legal" obligations?

First, we should lament the casualness with which Massiah currently, and Smith, Ramjattan and Trotman earlier, seem to insist that Guyana conceded sovereignty in any way by acceding to the CRC. Parliament should be applauded on its caution and restraint thus far, and should remember that UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960, reiterated in General Assembly Resolution 52/119 of December 12, 1997, says that "Nothing contained (herein) shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter".

We are therefore reminded by Patrick Fagan, ad nauseam, that "the UN's longstanding respect for the right of soverign nations to set their own domestic policies has yielded to a new countercultural agenda espoused in UN committee reports and documents particularly those relating to the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) ...." We should be thereby warned, and parliamentarians should consider Fagan's article "How the UN Conventions on Women's and Children's Rights Undermine Family, Religion and Soverignity" ( as required reading.

Secondly, and as an illustration of Fagan's concern above, this would lead logically to another most significant observation. We would ask after Lionel Persaud in his viewpoint of June 2004: "Where are the words "corporal punishment" mentioned in the Convention?” It may be eye-opening to Mr. Massiah that the Convention does not mention the term “corporal punishment” at all. Chantalle Smith, and the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC), is guilty of misrepresentation in implying that Guyana must consider the specific idea of “corporal punishment” as falling within the perspective, framework and intention of the original framers and signatories of the convention. The excessive latitude taken by the CRC in interpreting its mandate has been a source of concern in many countries.

This is indeed a significant issue worthy of Mr. Massiah’s attention; since the Convention itself also stipulates that due account must be taken of “the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the protection and harmonious development of the child”. Is the AFC, and Massiah, illustrating that they are totally unaware of Guyana ’s proud academic and educational heritage ... and how that came about in an athmosphere of caring but firm discipline? Withdrawing CP from a range of disciplinary measures serves no useful purpose!

Thirdly, consistent with Dr. Mark Hartwig’s diagnosis of an assault on soverignity and the granting of undue influence to special interests (“False Promises: How the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child Undermines National Sovereignty, the Legitimate Role of Parents and the Well-Being of Children“;, at least five NGO’s closely associated with the NCRC (do they have “consultative status with the NCRC” per Hartwig?) are now seeking to usurp the Ministry of Education’s outlook and legal authority on the issue of CP, and bully the rest of us Guyanese on this sensitive issue. We may have here a textbook illustration of his argument. The article brings an excellent perspective to the discussion. Dr Hartwig offers that the provisions of the CRC are unacceptable because of the following five reasons:

(1) They allow excessive breadth of interpretation;
(2) They give the Committee on the Rights of the Child virtually unlimited jurisdiction;
(3) They give undue influence to special interests;
(4) They undermine the legitimate role of parents; and
(5) They advance policies that intrude on national sovereignty.

These are objective criteria that Mr. Massiah can use in assessing CP and any other issues the CRC raises. Perhaps we can now begin to focus on the 'real' issues. If the CRC will not address the technical evidence for the retention of CP, then this effort at objectivity firstly means a generous debate in considering if Dr Hartwig was right or not. I cannot envisage the possibility of any Guyanese politician or legal luminary deferring to the CRC on any of the above five points. It takes only a two-thirds majority in Parliament to effect constitutional change, putting effective shackles on the scale and impact of CRC ambitions in our beloved country. This unity is achievable.

Or else we must move to referendum!

Yours faithfully,
Roger Williams
July 5, 2007

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