With $220M handed to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) just days ago, many have expressed the view that its response to violent expressions of anger over the killings of two teenagers and the aftermath at West Coast Berbice (WCB), is inadequate.
Days after the killings of Joel and Isaiah Henry, there have been riots leading to death and destruction of property.
On Wednesday, there were two more deaths. Haresh Singh, 17, was beaten to death, and found in the No. 3 Village backdam. Then, Prettipaul Hargobin, 34, was killed during a confrontation with protestors at Bath settlement.
All the ERC had to show for it was a statement of condolence, made four days ago.
In that statement, the Commission said that it “is pleading with Guyanese, especially those residing in the West Coast Berbice and nearby communities
to remain calm and allow the police to do their work.”
The statement called for all to allow the law to take its course, and for leaders to maintain responsible behaviour.It went on to state: “The ERC remains committed entirely, which it is fully empowered to do, to taking whatever course of action it deems necessary to assist in the de-escalation of tensions and the mending of fractured relations among citizens. The ERC reiterates that investigations by the police must first take precedence before the ERC acts to defuse any unwanted developments resulting from the tragic occurrences a few days ago.”
Discontentment with the singular statement became widespread on social media, with ‘#DefundTheERC’ trending among young users.
A petition is also circulating calling for the same thing. The main sentiment is that the ERC, as the most important interlocutor in issues of racial strife, despite receiving $220M, has been mostly silent while people bled in the streets.
This newspaper reached out to the ERC’s Public Relations Officer, Shivanand Nandalall, on Wednesday to enquire about what the Commission has planned, and whether it has been meeting to formulate a response.
He instructed Kaieteur News to forward questions via email, which it did, asking the ERC to respond to criticisms that it is not doing enough.
Notable mention was made of one Commissioner, Roshan Khan, who had been posting profusely on Facebook, calling on members of one ethnic group to form defense squads, and blaming the unrest solely on the leaders of one political party.
He also claimed that the murders were meant to de-stabilise the government.
After the uproar on social media and Kaieteur News’ questions were submitted, that Commissioner’s tone changed on Wednesday evening, to one of peace and love, calling on the political leaders to meet.
He went on to post what he labeled as an apology for calling on one ethnic group to form defensive squads. He deleted one of the posts as well.
Another Commissioner, Deodat Persaud, took to Facebook to respond to claims that he is not doing enough. Noting calls to defund the ERC, Persaud said that he has submitted a series of suggestions to the Commission for action. He noted that the final decision has to be made by the collective.
His suggestions include a televised call from all Commissioners for a cessation of violence, calls to leaders to cease harmful public utterances, a declaration of a day of mourning, a Commission visit to the family, and an appeal to the families of victims to publicly call for peace.
Last night, the Commission released a second statement which called on the Joint Services to ensure the East Coast and West Berbice corridor are sanitized, blockades removed, and law and order restored. It congratulated the Joint Services for their hard work to restore order, and commended President Irfaan Ali, PNCR Chair Volda Lawrence, and the father of Isaiah Henry for their public appeals against violence.
The ERC was established to promote ethnic harmony and security in Guyana. Its functions, according to its website, include eliminating all forms of ethnic discrimination, discouraging persons, entities and parties from engaging in discriminatory practices, encouraging respect for religious and cultural diversity, investigating complaints of racial discrimination, and promoting arbitration, as well as other forms of dispute resolution mechanisms to secure ethnic harmony and peace.
Up to press time, the ERC did not formally respond to this newspaper’s questions.
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