Citizenship and protection
The establishment of the Department of Citizenship in May 2015 was a positive and deliberate act of state policy. The Department exemplified the importance which the Government attaches to protecting Guyanese citizenship and to preventing abuses which have been occurring with increasing frequency in other parts of the hemisphere. Citizenship of a state is a precious asset and must be managed carefully.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights [at Article 15] provides that: “Everyone has the right to a nationality.”
Citizenship is not perfunctory. It carries benefits and entitlements. It is estimated that there more than 10 million stateless persons in the world. Citizenship:
∙ protects persons against statelessness which has the potential to result in denial and abuses of human rights;
∙ promotes political participation; citizens are entitled to compete for public office and to participate in elections; this empowers them to have a greater say in decisions which affect their well-being;
∙ provides for persons to benefit from the protection of the law; citizens are entitled to equal benefit of the law; and
∙ entitles persons to residency; a citizen cannot be deported; he or she is free to move freely across the country’s ten administrative Regions.
Guyanese citizens enjoy constitutional protections and entitlements. They are entitled, in accordance with the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, to:
∙ registration as a citizen of the Republic (at Article 42 (1));
∙ participation in the management and decision-making process of the State (at Article 13);
∙ engagement in activities designed to achieve their sustainable livelihoods (at Article 38);
∙ protection of their rights, including by local democratic organs (at Article 74 (3)); and
∙ protection against threats of armed aggression and to enjoy safety in their homes, streets and other places in the Republic (at Article 197A (1) and 197A (4)).
Citizenship entitles a citizen to have his or her birth registered which, in turn, can be used to register to vote and to apply for a national identification card and a passport. Proof of nationality allows for citizens to access education and to receive social assistance and public pensions.
The Government is examining options for the introduction of a single national identification card, with biometric and security features, which can be used for all government transactions – including receipt of NIS pensions, payment of taxes, social security, immigration and admission to schools. This single national identification card will replace the multiple forms of identification which are used presently by citizens.
Citizenship entitles every Guyanese to a share in the country’s patrimony. Citizenship obligates the state to protect its citizens, both at home and abroad. The protections offered by citizenship are not limited to the country’s territory. Nationals are entitled to protections outside of our borders. The Constitution [at Article 31] states: “It is the duty of the State to protect the just rights and interests of citizens resident abroad.”
Guyanese are entitled to certain benefits by virtue of their country’s membership of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. These include duty-free movement of goods produced within the Community, definite six-month entry in any Community state and the free movement of certain categories of skills and labour, including university graduates, sportspersons, artists, media workers, registered nurses, trained teachers and certain artisans and household domestics.
Citizenship is not a symbol. It is a qualification which ascribes rights, benefits and entitlements.
Citizenship has become an issue of topical interest, as evident in the ongoing reports and debates with the media, relating to the presence of foreign nationals in Guyana and the eligibility for qualification to become a member of the National Assembly. The Constitution empowers the President with the authority to deprive a dual citizen of his or her Guyanese citizenship. It states (at Article 46 (1)):
If the President of Guyana is satisfied that any citizen of Guyana has at any time after 25th May 1966, acquired by registration, naturalization or any other voluntary act (other than by marriage) the citizenship of any other country other than Guyana, the President may by order deprive that person of his or her citizenship.
The Constitution also proscribes certain persons from eligibility as members of the National Assembly. It [at Article 155 (1) (a)] states:
No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who –
a) is, by virtue of his or her act, under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state;
The Caribbean Court of Justice, in its judgment of 18th June 2019 in Christopher Ram vs. The Attorney General, the Leader of the Opposition et al., affirmed [at 88]:
…that a person holding Guyanese nationality is not qualified to be elected a member of the National Assembly if that person is also, voluntarily, a citizen of another State. Accordingly, Guyanese nationals with dual citizenship are not qualified to sit as members of the National Assembly.
Department of Citizenship
The establishment of the Department of Citizenship was intended to protect the rights of citizenship. Our citizenship policy is to ensure that every Guyanese citizen will be accounted for from birth to death, as far as technologically possible.
Citizenship is attained by registration of births. Children, nowhere in this country, should be prevented from attending school because they had no birth certificates. Many births could remain unregistered because of the long distance, time and high cost of transport associated with registration.
The Department of Citizenship has been conducting exercises to facilitate the registration of children whose births were not previously registered.
The Department has been decentralizing the issuance of passports. This has relieved the burdens which many citizens, across Guyana, had to face in travelling long distances and at great expense in order to obtain a passport. Passport offices have now been established at the capital towns of New Amsterdam, East Berbice-Corentyne and Linden, Upper Demerara-Berbice, and another will soon be established in the Pomeroon-Supenaam, at Anna Regina.
The Government intends, eventually, to have a passport office in every capital town so as to make the service more accessible to citizens.
The Department is helping to protect the country’s national patrimony. The presence of illegal miners can lead to the uncontrolled exploitation of the country’s resources.
Guyana is a friendly country with hospitable people, but we must be able to discern between legal and illegal aliens. The work of the Department of Citizenship enables this to happen. The presence of illegal aliens in the country can place pressures on the country’s social services and pose threats to national security.
This Department is responding to the migrant challenges. It is estimated that at present there are more than 13,000 migrants from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who have entered our territory, most of whom are in our frontier regions so far. These migrants are placing a strain on our social services, particularly our public health and public security systems.
The Department has adopted international best practices to respond to the influx of migrants fleeing Venezuela. It is improving its management by strengthening its capacity to monitor and map these migrants; it is seeking international help in providing them with humanitarian assistance. Guyana’s extensive and often porous land borders increase the likelihood of illegal migration and emigration, including back-tracking.
The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 strengthened the notion of ‘statehood’ and the link between citizenship and membership of states. The notion of state sovereignty allowed for greater recognition of the value of citizenship in Europe.
The New World, however, faced a different reality. It became the cockpit of imperial warfare. The continuing battle for overseas colonies among the European empires did not lend itself to a sense of national identity in the New World for the Indigenous peoples who were victims of the earlier imperial redrawing of territorial boundaries especially by the British, French Portuguese and Spanish empires.
The wisdom of establishing this Department has now become evident. The country would have been unprepared for the present migrant challenges had the Department not been in place.
The Department of Citizenship, deservedly, now has its own building. This edifice was renovated in order to provide a comfortable and people-friendly environment for the work of protecting local citizenship.
It is fitting that this building should be dedicated to Stephen Campbell, one of Guyana’s iconic Indigenous leaders. Stephen Campbell was an ardent advocate of protecting Indigenous citizenship.
He wore many caps during his lifetime. He worked as a teacher, farmer and labourer and as a rubber-tapper. He toiled in the bauxite and gold-mining industries and in the logging industry. He is best remembered for his sterling agitation for the protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights – rights which he felt were derived from their citizenship of this country.
The British Guiana Independence Conference, 1965, acknowledged Indigenous peoples rights to the legal ownership and occupancy over areas and reservations where Indigenous peoples normally reside. This decision was greatly influenced by Stephen Campbell’s tireless and persistent agitation. The Guyana Constitution 1966 enshrined the protections for which Campbell had petitioned.
Stephen Campbell’s vision of citizenship embodied the concept of national integration. This, he felt, could be achieved only if each person is respected, regardless of his or her class, ethnicity or place of residence and where everyone enjoyed opportunities for economic, political and social advancement.
‘Guyaneseness’ – the quality of being Guyanese – is to belong to a country which celebrates its cultural diversity by respecting each other. To be Guyanese is:
∙ to live in a society which harnesses the best of its citizens, ensures that our people are protected from abuse and where there human rights are upheld;
∙ to live in a sovereign state where equality prevails and where citizens can be accorded greater opportunities for their development in a secure, safe and stable environment; and
∙ to live in a cohesive society in which everyone has a stake in our national patrimony.
Stephen Campbell was a pioneer of Indigenous peoples’ rights, particularly land rights. He laid the foundation for the range of Indigenous peoples’ rights which are now enshrined in the Constitution. Stephen Campbell’s labours were not in vain.
The Preamble to the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana iterates that the Guyanese people “Value the special place in our nation of the Indigenous Peoples and recognize their right as citizens to land and security and to their promulgation of policies for their communities.”
The Constitution [at Article 149G] mandates that: “Indigenous peoples shall have the right to protection, preservation and promulgation of their languages, cultural heritage and way of life.”
It provides [at Article 212S (1)] for the establishment of an Indigenous Peoples’ Commission “to enhance the status of indigenous peoples and to respond to their legitimate demands and needs.”
The Stephen Campbell House will stand as a testimonial of the nation’s commitment to protecting the right of every citizen regardless of race, religion or region of residence in accordance with the Constitution.