Population: 799,600 thousand (World Bank, 2013)
Languages: English, Portuguese, Spanish, Akawaio, Macushi, Waiwai, Arawak, Patamona, Warrau, Carib, Wapishana, Arekuna
Major Ethnic Groups: 43.5% East Indian, 30.2% Black (African), 16.7% Mixed, 9.1% Amerindian, 0.5% others
GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 4,172 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)
GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 7,279 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)
Security Sector Stats
Active Armed Forces: 1,100 (Military Balance, 2014)
Small Arms: the estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Guyana is 155,000; the defence forces of Guyana are reported to have 15,500 firearms; and Police in Guyana are reported to have 2,500 firearms (Gun Policy, 2015)
Military Expenditure: 1.1% of GDP (World Bank, 2013)
Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America, faces a unique security problem that in recent years appears to have worsened. Over the past decade the homicide rate has increased tremendously, there have been several instances of gang violence in the country. There have also been the rise of powerful drug trafficking organisations, which have demonstrated an ability to influence Guyana’s democratic institutions.
Complicating the insecurity problem is a political culture dominated by divisions between the Indo-Guyanese majority and Afro-Guyanese minority, with the former complaining of unfair victimisation by the police and the latter of purposeful exclusion from power. This creates a political climate ripe for corruption and tampering with the judiciary branch, which only makes the crime problem more difficult to address.
Efforts could be made to tackle inefficiency in the courts system, something which will help bring down the case backlog the justice sector currently suffers from. In addition, helping the government remove corrupt elements of the police force and aiding with its proposed restructuring is advised.
Security and Justice Context
While Guyana’s homicide rate is lower than South America’s average (26 homicides per 100,000), it has risen steadily from 10.1 in 2000 to 18.4 homicides per 100,000 in 2010 (See Figure 1.), the most recent year available. This makes it the fifth most violent country in the continent, after Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador.
Armed robberies of businesses are common, especially in the capital city of Georgetown. Officials have warned that the number of robberies and kidnappings are increasing. The incidence of violent crimes other than homicides is difficult to determine, however, as the Guyanese government does not regularly publish crime statistics. In March 2011, the country’s former police commissioner told the press that the country had seen a 9 percent increase in its crime rate over the past year, although he did not provide a source for this figure.
Like elsewhere in the hemisphere, the deteriorating level of citizen security in Guyana can be attributed to street gangs and the rise of sophisticated drug trafficking organisations in the country.
Perhaps the most infamous gang to emerge from Guyana in recent years was led by Rondell “Fineman” Rawlins, who directed a string of armed robberies and murders in the mid- to late-2000s, culminating in 2008 when Rawlins “declared war” on the government after accusing police of kidnapping his girlfriend. As part of this campaign, his band attacked two villages and three police stations in the north of the country, murdering at least 23 people before officials killed him in a shootout.
Despite the high-profile attacks conducted by Rawlins, most street gangs in Guyana are small, and do not have the organisational capacity of other groups in the region. They also lack the strong group identity of Central American street gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha or Barrio 18. Guyanese street gangs generally do not maintain identifiable gang symbols, tattoos, clothing or initiation rituals. They are more like criminal bands, forming only with an explicit criminal venture in mind, and do not maintain strong control in neighbourhoods or territorial areas.
Not all Guyanese gangs are disorganised. In major cities like Georgetown and Linden, some gangs have ties to the country’s two main political parties: the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and People's National Congress (PNC).These groups are more paramilitary in nature, and are organised along the strong ethnic divisions in the country between the Indo-Guyanese majority (which generally favours the PPP) and the Afro-Guyanese minority (which generally backs the PNC). Officials in both parties use their associated gangs to intimidate political opponents, and commonly cite opposition-affiliated gangs as reasons to support harsh law enforcement crackdowns against communities of the other ethnicity.
Guyana has recently become home to relatively large-scale drug trafficking organisations, making it a significant transit nation for cocaine bound for Europe and the United States. Guyanese customs officials claim that as much as 60 percent of the cocaine which enters Guyana is smuggled across the western Venezuelan border. From there, it is usually transferred to commercial freight vessels, most of which leave from the shipping hub of Georgetown.
Although the Guyanese government has downplayed the presence of drug trafficking organisations in the country, they have developed important strategic connections within the police force and judicial system, which allow them to operate with relative impunity. With Venezuela a crucial transit country for the European cocaine market, these criminal structures will likely see an increase in profits, thus leading to greater sophistication and influence. This makes them the biggest threat to the integrity of Guyana’s government institutions in the immediate future.
Based on the most recent count, there are estimated to be a little over 100,000 firearms held by civilians in the country; however, only around 50 percent of these are actually registered, suggesting Guyana may play a role in the regional arms trade.
Perceptions of Insecurity
According to Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), the perception of insecurity in Guyana rose between 2010 and 2012, from 33.8 points to 34.7 (See Figure 2.). This remains below the peak of 40.7 points registered in 2006, however.
Security and Justice Institutions
Guyana’s legal system is based on its 1980 Constitution. The judicial branch is comprised of the Supreme Court of Judicature , federal appellate courts and local trial courts. The Supreme Court has 11 justices appointed by the president upon the advice of a legal body known as the Judicial Service Commission. In 2003, the country ratified a treaty guaranteeing citizens the right of final appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), inaugurated in 2005 as the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) .
Despite the Constitution’s guarantees of an independent judiciary, the judicial branch has been negatively affected by the ethnic-based political divisions in the country. Since 1980, both the PPP and PNC have used their time in power to fill the courts with supporters, and the judiciary struggles to serve as an effective check on either the executive or legislative branches. In the World Economic Forum’s 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report, Guyana ranked 93rd out of 144 countries for judicial independence.
According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Guyana has roughly 3.5 judges per 100,000 people, a ratio far lower than other judiciaries in the region. Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, has 6.3 judges per 100,000, and the Dominican Republic has 7.0. Estimates put the judicial vacancy rate in the country between five and 50 percent.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs houses the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Guyanese legal system has procedural problems. Delays in judicial proceedings are common, and caused by a lack of trained legal officials and inadequate resources. In 2010, nearly 41 percent of prisoners in the country had not yet been tried or convicted, and were being held in pre-trial detention which can last several months and does not count towards a convicted suspect’s criminal sentence.
The backlog of cases, along with an underfunded penal system, has caused prisons to become overcrowded. According to estimates by the United Nations, the five prison facilities in Guyana hold 2,100 inmates, nearly 135 percent of their official capacity.
The penitentiary system is handled by the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Corruption is an issue among prison officials. The Director of Prisons declared at the beginning of 2013 that the coming year would be dedicated to purging the institution of corrupt officials. Efforts would also be made to improve reintegration measures for released prisoners, the director added.
As of 2010, the Guyana Police Force (GPF)—which falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs—had some 2,900 agents, a ratio of one police officer for every 259 people in the country. The force is considered to be badly trained and under resourced.
Racial polarisation has influenced the public perception of the GPF. Many Indo-Guyanese complain of victimisation by Afro-Guyanese criminals, and feel ignored by the predominantly Afro-Guyanese police. Afro-Guyanese citizens also claim that the police are manipulated by the government for its own purposes.
In addition, police have been known to establish “arrangements” with some gangs who make regular payments to the force in exchange for license to operate. This corruption extends to police leadership, as a number of top officials have been linked to organised crime in recent years. Guyanese drug kingpin Shaheed "Roger" Khan, for instance, had several active duty police officials on his payroll before he was arrested and extradited to the United States in 2006. Human rights groups say he also had low-level agents acting as “enforcers” in the country, disappearing and killing more than 200 people between 2002 and 2006.
Supplementing the police are units known as Community Policing Groups (CPGs). Formed in 1986, CPGs are neighbourhood-based policing groups that conduct patrols and alert the GPF of criminal activity. The CPGs began as community vigilante organisations, and maintain some of that legacy today. They have access to guns, vehicles, and boats via local GPF offices.
There is a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) which receives reports of police misconduct. The PCA, however, does not have the capacity to carry out independent investigations based on complaints. The body is also under-staffed.
The country’s intelligence agency is the National Intelligence Centre (NIC).
The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) comes under the country’s Defence Board and has 3,428 personnel. Its primary duty is the defence of national territory though it does assist the GPF in local law enforcement. In the 2010 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) citizen security survey, 43.6 percent of respondents in Guyana believe the military should control crime. Only 23.1 percent had confidence in the ability of the police to control violence
The government announced a new strategic security plan at the beginning of 2013 that aims to carry out a far-reaching restructuring of the country’s security sector. The plan would reportedly involve civilian oversight to ensure full transparency in restructuring measures.
As of January 2013, the plan was still being debated and was yet to be presented to the National Assembly. Opposition leaders cited the non-support as being down to a lack of faith in the House
Affairs Minister to fully implement the plan.
State of Security and Justice Sector Reform
Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives
The most notable effort at judicial reform in recent years occurred under the administration of former President Bharrat Jagdeo (1999-2011), who began to tackle the issue in his second term, increasing spending on legal training for judges and implementing greater accountability in the court system. These reforms were funded in large part by a $15 million loan from the IDB in 2006.
The IDB program has three main goals: 1.) to strengthen the capacity of investigators to gather and analyse data to provide evidence-based policy solutions; 2.) to modernise the GPF through restructuring and giving it the training and tools necessary to improve its accountability and investigative power; and 3.) to implement community-based programs designed to prevent crime in high-risk communities.
From 2006 to 2011, the Guyanese legislature passed several bills intended to streamline the court system, including: the Time Limit for Judicial Decisions Act, imposing a time limit on judges for writing up their decisions; the Amendment to the Evidence Act, which allows for audio visual testimony to be used in court, the Contempt of Court Act, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, the Judicial Review Act, the Paper Committal Legislation, and the Plea Bargaining Act, all of which are designed to make the judiciary more modern and increase its ability to effectively deal with civil and criminal matters in the country.
Major problems persist in the Guyanese judicial system. For instance, the Constitution provides for an ombudsman charged with prosecuting governmental wrongdoing, but the fact that this official is appointed by the president raises questions about the independence of the post. The ombudsman also lacks the authority to investigate allegations of police misconduct, meaning that there is no independent body tasked with pursuing complaints of police brutality or abuse.
Security Sector Reform and Initiatives
Police reform has made similarly limited progress in Guyana. While independent investigations regularly point to the need for greater accountability in the GPF and a more ethnically balanced police force in order to address racial tensions, the government has not taken any significant steps to address these needs. Nor has the government made an attempt to curtail the influence of the controversial CPG vigilante groups, despite criticism from human rights groups that they are prone to abuse of power, criminal penetration and serve as extensions of the ruling PPP.
The aforementioned strategic security plan will in theory address the issue of police reform in full if it gets past the National Assembly. There were few details as of January 2013 on how significant reform would be achieved, however, since the plan was still being debated. One measure would be a re-branding of the GPF, renaming it the Guyana Police Service.
Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a US government-funded program, Guyana has received aid to help increase the capacity of its police through training programs and technical assistance, as well being the beneficiary of aid to implement programmes to educate at-risk youth and help them enter the workforce. The CBSI also aims to increase the capacity of Guyana’s narcotics interdiction efforts.
Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight
The National Assembly has the capacity to approve or block bills sent to the Legislature. There are concerns over its power to provide effective oversight, however, due to the strong powers of the executive in the country.
Security and Justice Opportunities
There is much to be done in order to reduce crime in the country and make Guyana’s security and justice institutions more effective and professional.
Though the country’s corruption score improved from 2011 to 2012, according to Transparency International, Guyana still ranked 133rd out of 176 countries, underscoring how endemic corruption is a major concern throughout all levels of government.
Justice Sector Opportunities
In terms of judicial reform, perhaps the biggest obstacles for Guyana are the lack of judicial independence and backlogs in the trial process. If these were addressed, it would have a positive impact on both the effectiveness of the courts as well as the overcrowded penal system.
Considering the Inter-American Development Bank’s role in recent judicial reforms, the IDB represents a promising partner for future reform efforts. Because of its experience in the country, it also likely has the necessary connections with judicial officials to know the specifics and real potential for necessary changes to the legal system.
Other international non-government organisations (NGOs) have worked to provide better training to legal officials in Guyana. Among these is New Perimeter , a non-profit organisation established by global law firm DLA Piper. Since 2006, New Perimeter has designed and implemented a series of workshops for magistrate judges and Guyanese prosecutors. The group also researched and wrote two comprehensive desk reference manuals judges and prosecutors in the country.
Security Sector Opportunities
If the government passes its strategic security plan and manages to push ahead with restructuring of the police force, these efforts could be aided. Police inefficiency and corruption are significant stumbling blocks to improving citizen security. If better training and more resources are provided, along with conducting a purge of corrupt officials, this would go a long way to helping the country combat insecurity.
Civil Society Actors for Engagement
On the police reform front, there are a number of NGOs working to make the GPF more accountable. These include the Guyana Human Rights Association, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) and the Alliance For Change (AFC), which were especially active following the October 2012 killing of a youth in Georgetown at the hands of police. In the aftermath of the murder, these groups organised a series of protests designed to pressure the police to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings and abuse.
Organisation of American States, “2012 Report on Citizen Security in the Americas,” May 2012
Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012
Small Arms Survey, “In Transit: Gangs and Criminal Networks in Guyana,” February 2012
Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, “Guyana–Gun Facts, Figures and Law,” Data retrieved from http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/guyana
The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in Guyana, 2009: The Impact of Governance,” September 2009
The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2010: Democratic Consolidation in the Americas in Hard Times,” December 2010
The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2012: Towards Equality of Opportunity,” November 2012 (Preliminary Version)
Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2012,” December 2012
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Homicide Statistics 2012,” Data set retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/homicide.html
United Nations Development Programme, “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012” February 2012
U.S. Department of State, “2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2012
U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012
World Economic Forum, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013,” September 2012
 LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher perception of insecurity.
 The Supreme Court is divided into the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
 CARICOM is an organisation comprised of 15 nations and aims to promote economic integration and cooperation between its member states.
 The plan was untitled at the time of writing.
The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:
- Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
- Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
- Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.
The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.