The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has had a busy 2022, with over 140 cases under active investigation and as many as 40 cases of racially hostile statements made on social media flagged throughout the year.
Recently laid in the National Assembly, the ERC 2022 report provided updates not only on 2022, but also prior years’ matters. The report reveals that there are currently 146 cases under active investigation by the ERC’s investigative unit.
These cases date back to 2020, with as many as 34 complaints being recorded in that year alone. Over 100 cases were recorded in 2021, though the number of recorded complaints reduced significantly last year, with only seven being received.
Meanwhile, there were 47 instances of ethnically offensive comments flagged by the Media Monitoring Unit (MMU). There were several instances where the unit’s staff had to intervene on social media, to flag racially inciteful comments.
“Ever since the MMU began monitoring social media on behalf of the ERC (in 2019), specific focus has been directed at the official websites and Facebook pages of those local media houses and political parties known to be domiciled and operating within the geographical boundaries of Guyana,” the report explained.
“Despite the absence of a Commission during the period under review, the MMU was able to inject ‘Cautionary Statements’ in the comments sections of websites and social media pages of political parties and media houses, given that it was already empowered by the ERC to make such interventions. It is apt to reiterate that there were 47 instances of ethnically offensive comments that were responded to by the Unit.”
Earlier this year, eight members of the ERC were sworn in by President Dr Irfaan Ali. The ERC noted in the report that once this was done, they would be able to restaff the monitoring unit to better be able to tackle infractions.
“With the expansion and growth of digital media, more users will be added to social media platforms, but the MMU’s staff size constraint is likely to further limit broad-based and holistic monitoring of online content. As such, this situation can be categorised as worrying since the majority of infringements emanate from social media.”
“Hopefully, with the coming on board of a new Commission in 2023, the Unit will be re-staffed and revitalised to continue to give active organisational support to the ERC in its effort to ensure that the media is not used as a divisive tool to undermine the Commission’s efforts to foster ethnic harmony and good relations in Guyana,” the report states.
The ERC’s mandate is to provide equality of opportunity between persons of different ethnic groups and to promote harmony and good relations between such persons and provide the elimination of all forms of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. It is also required to discourage and prohibit persons, institutions, political parties and associates from indulging in, advocating or promoting discriminatory practices on the ground of ethnicity.
Article 212 (A) and 212B (1A) of the Constitution of Guyana provide for the creation of an Ethnic Relations Commission and further prescribe that it should consist of not less than five nor more than 15 members nominated by entities utilising a mechanism determined by the National Assembly.
Religious representatives are Pandit Krishna Sharma, Shaikh Moeen Ul-Hack and Reverend Rodwell Porter; Norris Witter for the movement bodies, Dwayne Adams for youth bodies, and Chandrowtie Sarran for women bodies were also admitted to the Commission.Charles Ogle, representing Private sector bodies, was sworn in subsequently. Joining the ERC to represent cultural and ethnic organisations were Ashton Simon, Deon Dick, and Neaz Subhan.