ERC hauling ‘ethnic offenders’ to courts
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ERC Chairman, Mr. John Smith
ERC Chairman, Mr. John Smith

IN 2021, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) will be heading full steam ahead with new strategies to address issues of ethnic relations and racially-motivated crimes.
This is according John Smith, the Commission’s Chairman, who, on Tuesday told the Guyana Chronicle that over the years, the Commission has had somewhat of a ‘polite’ approach to addressing persons who would have publically committed racially-motivated crimes.
The ERC has been criticised for its silence during the attempt by elements in the Coalition Government to rig the March 2, 2020 elections, and is viewed by some sections of society as selective and partisan.

Recently, President Dr. Irfaan Ali also expressed critical views with regards to the panelists of a two-day forum hosted by the ERC to improve race relations.
“In the midst of the ERC discussion, persons who were part of a process to derail democracy were present. How did they arrive at the names for the panel?” he asked.
Before 2020 ended, the Commission had begun subpoenaing offenders to appear in the Magistrates’ Court answer to crimes that they would have committed.
“We realise that we have been asking them politely to desist, but we needed a stronger approach, so we found a new way to bring them before the courts. So that’s where we are now,” Smith told this publication.

Recently, three persons were charged and fined for comments offensive in law.
The Commission had reported in late December that, through its lawyer, Mr. Stanley Moore, several complaints were filed in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court, and three defendants, namely, John Gobin, Steve Anthony Barakat, and Lashona Chester were arraigned before City Magistrate Rhondel Weever on December 9. Based on the specific nature of their conduct and words, the charges against the defendants included causing ethnic/racial violence or hatred, and exciting hostility or ill-will on the basis of race.
Gobin pleaded guilty, and was fined $20,000. The magistrate warned him not to repeat the offence, or publish any similar material in the future. Barakat pleaded not guilty, and was placed on $30,000 bail.

He was represented by Attorney-at-Law Latchmie Rahamat, and his matter was adjourned to January 20, 2021 for trial.
The complaint against Lashona Chester could not be served, despite vigorous attempts to locate her. The magistrate ordered that steps be taken to summon her again, and adjourned Chester’s matter to January 20, 2021 as well.
Meanwhile, Smith noted that in the new year, the ERC will do all in its power to exercise the body’s constitutional power, and fulfill its mandate to better serve the Guyanese people.
The Chairman noted that while there is more to be done, and the Commission is optimistic that when persons see that there are severe consequences to their actions, they will desist from taking part in such crimes.

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