WE the undersigned Commissioners wish to disassociate myself from a letter dated January 28, 2021, (see attached) emanating from the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) as signed by the Chairman and addressed to the Honourable Catherine Hughes, Member of Parliament.
The letter followed the completion of an internal investigation into a Facebook post in which the comment, “this country needs a civil war”, was noted. The commission in a press release on December 16, 2020, captioned, “ERC INVESTIGATING DANGEROUS SOCIAL MEDIA POST ALLEGEDLY ATTRIBUTED TO CATHY HUGHES”, captured Ms. Hughes’ response and further stated that, “the commission will continue its investigation to first ascertain the authenticity of the post and then decide on any action that may be deemed necessary”.
In our respectful opinions, we have always argued in the commission that any action and/or utterances by anyone, especially public officials, which can lead to disharmony, is of concern to the body. A civil war is a war between citizens of the same country and can have dire consequences as history teaches. Therefore, in our view, calls for such, whether allegedly by Mrs. Hughes or anyone else, have the potential to bring direct harm and disharmony to and among our people.
The letter to Mrs. Hughes alluded to, which did not address the authenticity of the post, did not benefit from our input as commissioners. Indeed, we were only made aware after it was prepared and dispatched. Therefore, the missive does not reflect our views on the issue it speaks to.
The “raison d’etre” of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) is to investigate comments that can lead to or likely to or shall excite racial and ethnic hostility between and among Guyanese.
Our view is that the position adapted by the commission in the said letter, constitutes an abysmal abdication of its very mandate. Further, while space may not permit, a number of statements of similar genus, which were the subject of investigation, commentary and condemnation by this commission in the past, can be cited.
Therefore, it remains befuddling that the commission takes the position that the comment made in the alleged post, is beyond its scope to pronounce upon, yet and in the very next sentence, it seemingly pronounces on the matter and then later on proceeds to issue an apology to Mrs. Hughes.
For ease of reference, paragraph three of the letter states, “As you are aware, the mandate of the commission is to receive and investigate complaints of racial, ethnic, religious or cultural discrimination brought to its attention. Hence, the complaint falls outside the scope of the commission. The team has concluded that the comment, ‘this country needs a civil war’, was intended to create nothing more than mischief in the Guyanese populace”.
By concluding in that paragraph, that the comment was intended to create nothing more than mischief, the mater, in our view, has been pronounced upon by the commission – a matter, by its own position, that has the potential for disharmony.
The situation is further compounded by the decision to recommend the said matter for investigation elsewhere thereby recognising that the matter is far from being completed. In doing so, the commission is claiming that it has no jurisdiction over the said matter.
We are also befuddled that, from the conclusion, such dastardly call as that for a civil war, whether through an alleged doctored post or one facilitated supposedly through a fake profile, seems not of concern to the commission. We believe that with all due respect to Mrs. Hughes for whom we have nothing personally against, there wasn’t a need for the commission to apologise, especially since the commission did not accuse of an offence.
Given that the apology emanated from the commission, we believe it was necessary for our views be made public to avoid any misconception that the decision was holistic. Inexplicably, the commission, having issued a statement on January 19, 2021, captioned, “ERC TO INVESTIGATE INTERNAL BREACH OF PRIVATE MEETING”, and which was in response to racial attacks against us and two other commissioners simply because we voted for eternal advertisement for vacancies at the level of the Heads of Department, to date, we are yet to be officially informed, verbally or written, on the said investigation. That could be subjected to inferences.
Haji Roshan Khan
Ethnic Relations Commission