…received 61 in 2019; some matters before DPP, police
A TOTAL of 61 complaints in relation to racial or ethnic and religious discrimination have been received by the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) in 2019 and 44 of these have been brought to a closure.
At a press conference at the Cara Lodge on Friday, it was noted that 12 of these complaints are still being reviewed by the commission’s sub-committee; five remain active and some are presently before the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the police.
The commission did not state whether the matters before the police and the DPP are in relation to remarks or actions made on the political campaign trail. However, Commissioner Norris Witter assured the media that of the 44 complaints already dealt with, none has met the level for which prosecution is warranted and the ERC would not hesitate in the case that any such arises.
“We have not and will not avoid proceeding to prosecution if any complaint before us, having been thoroughly investigated, suggests that it is of that gravamen that it requires prosecution,” he stated firmly.
In remarks to the gathering, ERC Chair, Dr. John Smith, established that the commission remains concerned about the use of language which can be considered as “combative and disrespectful” and, in some cases, even threatening.
Article 212 (d) of the Constitution arms the commission with the authority to function as a body which regulates equality of opportunity amongst the different races and promotes harmony and good relations among people.
With the first quarter of 2020 being one which will be politically charged, Dr. Smith said that the commission, through its Monitoring Unit, will continue to monitor various public meetings and related media coverage.
He reminded that some actions and utterances can constitute as offences under the Representation of the People Act and the Racial Hostility Act, and will not be taken lightly by the commission.
“The ERC firmly believes that those actions and utterances are counter-productive to the valiant efforts being made to foster unity and harmony. Those have no place in our society and restraint from all sides is urged while tolerance and respect for each other are encouraged,” he stated.
Just recently, the commission has publically accepted the apology of University of Guyana (UG) Student, Brian Kayume, for his use of racist slurs against the Afro-Guyanese community back in November.
The acceptance came subsequent to Kayume being summoned by the ERC for a meetings and his apology through the media to those he would have offended.
Local Christian Disc Jockey (DJ), Kester Deane, was also made to meet with the ERC and publically apologise in December 2019, after he made a social media post which suggested that Hinduism was somewhat responsible for a number of social issues plaguing the country.
In its efforts to encourage tolerance and mutual respect, the commission has long embarked on a sensitisation campaign which includes the recent launch of its movie, ‘I am Us’ and its ‘Let Harmony Come In’ song, both which encourage Guyanese to live in unity.
Over the year, the commission has also visited several regions of the country, engaging various communities and stakeholder agencies to ascertain the unique issues which affect them.
A total of 1,544 persons were engaged by the ERC in 2019 and 602 in 2018.
Moving forward, the commission has promised to work with all stakeholders to deliver on its mandate even as it encourages members of the media and public to do their part by inspiring national harmony and good relations amongst all peoples.