Update: Ethnic Relations Commission starts talks on police force use of “negro”

Last Updated on Friday, 31 May 2024, 21:34 by Writer

The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) on Friday told Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes that the constitutional body has begun discussing his request for the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to be directed to stop using the word “negro”.

Describing his letter to the ERC Chief Executive Officer, Gomin Camacho as a “complaint”, she told Mr Hughes that his concerns were being treated with the “utmost importance.”

“The ERC is fully committed to achieving a fair and just resolution. The matter is receiving the attention of the full Commission, and discussions have been initiated,” she told the Attorney-at-Law who has represented the International Decade for People of African Descent Assembly-Guyana (IDPADA-G).

The ERC Chief Executive Officer said in her letter that the constitution would be guided by Guyana’s Constitution. “The Commission will take the required actions in accordance with the constitution of Guyana to address the concerns raised,” she said.

In raising his concerns about the GPF’s use of “negro”, Mr Hughes cited Article 149 of Guyana’s Constitution which commits to equality and non-discrimination, and mandates that all citizens be treated with respect and fairness. He said Article 149 of the Constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, ensuring that all ethnic groups are afforded equal protection under the law.

The ERC CEO sought to assure Mr Hughes that the Commission is “committed to arriving at a resolution within the shortest possible time.” He was told that the ERC would “engage you further for your input as we address this matter.” Ms Camacho invited the lawyer to share any queries, concerns, or additional details with the commission.

In a press statement, the ERC said, “the Commission is analyzing the various details outlined in the letter and will determine the series of actions to be taken for a fair and just resolution to the concerns raised.”

The Attorney-at-Law’s missive to the ERC stemmed from the police force’s initial description of Working People’s Alliance (WPA) activist, Kidackie Amsterdam as “negro”. However, that was changed to Afro-Guyanese. He was arrested and charged with violating the Cybercrime Act after a caller to his Facebook programme allegedly advocated the killing of President Irfaan Ali. He is on GY$200,000 bail.

Mr Hughes wants the ERC to issue a directive to the police force, advising that law enforcement agency “to cease the use of the term “Negro” and any other derogatory language when referring to individuals of African descent. “This directive should be disseminated widely within the force to ensure compliance at all levels,” he said. Mr Hughes further recommended that a monitoring mechanism be established to ensure adherence to the directive. “Any breaches should be met with appropriate disciplinary action to reinforce the importance of respectful conduct,” he said.

The lawyer’s missive to the ERC came less than one week after his client, Mr Amsterdam, said the police force’s description of him as a “negro” was met with strong objection and eventually police changed it.

Mr Hughes issued the call to the ERC in a formal letter to that body’s Chief Executive Officer, Gomin Camacho on the grounds that the term “negro” has its roots in colonialism and slavery, where it was used to dehumanize and subjugate people of African descent. “Its usage today is not only outdated but also perpetuates a legacy of racism and exclusion,” he added.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall earlier this week said a lawyer was attempting to score cheap points by raising objections to the police force’s use of “negro” while United States Congressman, Jonathan Jackson was visiting Guyana.

“For over 180 years, the Guyana Police Force has been using “Negro” to describe Afro-Guyanese, “East Indian” to describe Indo-Guyanese, “Amerindian” to describe indigenous Guyanese, etc. in their investigative documents without any objection whatsoever from any quarter.
However, as a result of the presence in Guyana of a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Jonathan Jackson and in a deliberate effort to stir the ethnic and racial broil as is his wont, an Attorney-at-Law suddenly finds the use by the Guyana Police Force of the term “Negro” highly objectionable,” Mr Nandlall said. He noted that the lawyer was silent on Mr Amsterdam’s utterance.
Attorney-at-Law Hughes said under international human rights law, to which Guyana is a signatory, the use of derogatory language by state officials violates the principles of equality and non-discrimination. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which Guyana ratified in 1977, obligates the state to condemn and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. Article 4 of ICERD requires state parties to take immediate and positive measures to eradicate any incitement to, or acts of, racial discrimination, including the use of derogatory language by public authorities.
He said the United Nations’ Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted in 2001, emphasizes the role of education and public awareness in combating racism and promoting respect for diversity. He said that declaration also calls upon states to ensure that law enforcement agencies adopt measures to eliminate racial profiling and discrimination in their practices.

He also recommended that the ERC implement mandatory training programs for all police officers on cultural sensitivity, diversity, and the importance of respectful language. These programs should emphasize the historical and social context of derogatory terms and their impact on community relations.”By taking these steps, the Ethnic Relations Commission can play a pivotal role in promoting a culture of respect and inclusion within the Guyana Police Force. This will not only enhance community-police relations but also uphold the principles of equality and non-discrimination that are enshrined in our Constitution and international commitments,” he added.