Global Civil Society Groups Urge Respect for Democracy and Rights in Guyana

World Bank accused over ExxonMobil plans to tap Guyana oil rush
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More than 100 environmental and human rights organizations and eminent persons from around the world issued an urgent statement today expressing solidarity with the people of Guyana in light of the country’s recent elections. It calls for transparency, for all parties to uphold the integrity of the March 2 election outcomes according to applicable law, and for a peaceful transition once an outcome is verified.

Since the March 2 election, there have been numerous procedural irregularities, unexplained discrepancies, threats against impartial observers, and the premature declaration of one party as the victor in this vital election. Guyana’s High Court will convene a hearing in the afternoon of March 10 to consider the legal steps needed to reach a verified outcome. In the interim, the situation has led to rising protests across the country, resulting in the death of at least one protestor.

The joint statement called on all involved to protect the rule of law in Guyana and take steps to ensure the safety of the Guyanese people. It urged particular attention to the situation of environmental and human rights defenders who are too often targeted in moments of social and political unrest.

The statement also drew attention to the critical role of Guyana’s nascent oil industry in exacerbating the political crisis, and it called on Exxon and other oil companies to declare unequivocally that they will only conduct business with a lawfully installed government. Following the discovery of oil off the coast of Guyana, major oil companies are racing to open up the country as the newest extractive frontier. However, the oil rush has contributed to threats to human rights and democracy and threatens to reward corruption and repression, with the fraught election results as the most recent example.

“The turmoil of recent days bears all the hallmarks of the oil curse that has plagued countries and peoples around the world, as the promise of oil wealth turns government into a prize to be captured rather than a duty to be fulfilled. For the vast majority of people in these countries, oil extraction brings not greater development, but greater threats to their freedom, their rights, and their environment. Right now, this false promise is putting democracy and the safety of people across Guyana at risk,” says Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “For that reason, we call on oil companies and those financing the oil boom in Guyana to join the international community in the call for legitimate electoral process and results — and for all involved to heed those calls and ensure a safe, peaceful transition of power.”

Finally, the statement highlighted the role of the financial sector, including the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, in financing Guyana’s conversion from a net carbon sink into a fossil-dependent economy and a significant source of global emissions.

“With its involvement in Guyana’s oil and gas development, the World Bank has contributed to the critical situation we now see after the election. Under the World Bank’s assistance, contracts were made between the oil companies and a government that – after a vote of no confidence – should have left office a year ago. Rather than striving for ‘good governance,’ the World Bank has created more instability in an already precarious political situation,” says Ute Koczy, Finance Campaigner at Urgewald.