By Kurt Campbell
In an auspicious ceremony, attended by several high-ranking members of the government, judiciary and those piloting social services, the first of several ‘Hope and Justice’ centres to be built across the country was opened on Friday at Lusignan on the East Coast Demerara in Region Four (Demerara – Mahaica).
These all-in-one centres will provide legal and medical aid, counselling and law enforcement services to persons dealing with gender-based violence. Temporary accommodation could also be provided.
The construction of the Hope and Justice Centre is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security and the Ministry of Legal Affairs under the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) – Support for the Criminal Justice System (SCJS) programme.
And though this is the first such centre to come into operation, several others are being built across the country, including in hinterland areas, with Regions One and Three prioritized for such centres next.
The centre’s ‘one-stop’ operational model will ensure victims of gender-based violence are provided access to all related services under one roof and in an integrated manner.
The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security is slated to ramp up its awareness campaigns to ensure Guyanese fully utilise the services that are made available to them.
New laws are also being crafted to ensure that there is adequate legislative support for vulnerable persons.
Subject minister, Dr. Vindyha Persaud said she is hopeful the centre will achieve the highest level of impact and transformation intended in battling the scourge of gender based violence.
“This initiative…could not have been a more timely intervention.
“With hope there is always justice, and with justice there will always be hope, so the names marry well,” Dr. Persaud said as she acknowledged the harmonizing support government agencies and other international partners like the IDB have provided to make this a reality.
With the doors open to all citizens from all communities, Dr. Persaud said this first Hope and Justice Centre will be replicated in design and colour code across the country to be easily recognizable.
She promised confidentiality and swift action towards helping those who come to the centre.
“Enough with the violence,” she declared while announcing also a new programme this year to support perpetrators of violence.
Meanwhile, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall said the simple event was an historic one.
“The type of services and the combination of services that will be provided here have never been provided before in this country and we heard they are not available anywhere in the English-speaking Caribbean.
“Measures have been taken over the years, strategies designed and unleashed, programmatic approaches launched, laws enacted in our continuous attempt to curb this horrific occurrence…but the truth is we have not been successful,” Nandlall said.
He said the option to give up is not one to be taken and he commented the pursuance of traditional methods and new innovations and opportunities to marshal efforts overcome violence.
And so, he addressed the overhauling of the Domestic Violence Act, first passed in 1996, and the Sexual Offences Act with more studied pieces of legislation to be tabled in the National Assembly soon and enacted following its debate and passage.
Additionally, a new Sexual Harassment Bill is in place to be tabled soon and work is ongoing on a serious of other related pieces of legislation.
“We have learnt that the law alone can’t solve this problem… we are working on training programmes to train our officers who will engage in the battle,” Nandllall said as he hailed the work of the Restorative Justice Programme.
Under that programme, he said the centre was strategically constructed in close proximity to health facilities, courts and police stations.
Among those attending the event were IDB Country Representative Lorena Solorzano Salazar; Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Yonnette Cummings-Edwards; Chief Magistrate (ag) Sherdel Isaacs – Marcus; Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack; Director of Prisons (ag) Nicklon Elliott along with other diplomatic guests.