Lincoln Lewis takes up racism at the Chronicle with the UN
Trade unionist Lincoln Lewis has petitioned the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, accusing the government of promoting racism and discrimination against persons of African descent through a recent editorial published in the Guyana Chronicle newspaper.
Lewis has sought relief from the UN Committee, arguing that in the absence of a Human Rights Commission (HRC) and a functioning Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), there is no effective local remedy for violation of the rights to citizens guaranteed under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. “Our client fears that there is a real risk of further publications of a similar nature and unless there is urgent relief granted pursuant to the Convention, persons of African descent are in real danger of prolonged and sustained racial discrimination by the Government of Guyana,” the petition, filed on Lewis’ behalf by attorney Nigel Hughes said.
The petition has been sent to UN Committee’s Petitions Team in Geneva, Switzerland and a formal letter of complaint was yesterday sent to Attorney General Anil Nandlall, in which Hughes enquired whether the government intends to constitute a Human Rights Commission as mandated by the Constitution.
Lewis cited the absence of the Human Rights Commission and the Ethnic Relations Commission, since he is required to exhaust all available local remedies prior to petitioning the UN Committee.
Describing himself as an African Guyanese, Lewis said that the contents of the editorial, which appeared in the state-owned newspaper were “were racist, sought to promote racial discrimination and were published in violation of the principles” in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
In explaining the alleged violation, Lewis quoted two paragraphs of the editorial, which was entitled ‘Opposition rampages to sow disunity in the country’: (a) “Black youths are socialized by opposition leaders to think that Indians robbed them to get rich, so they automatically feel that they have to wrest by force, even murder, anything Indians have”; and (b) “Hatred of Indians is ingrained into their psyche. Many Indian persons, who grew up in the arms of black people in rural communities have today become fearful anytime a black youth gets too close to them.”
It was noted that Article Two of the International Convention obliges states not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any persons of organisations. “Our client, who is a Guyanese of African descent, is victim of the racist statements made in the said editorial and is of the opinion that the State through its national newspaper, the Chronicle, has promoted and is seeking to promote racial discrimination against citizens of African descent in Guyana,” the petition states.
It was further noted that Article 154 A of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana guarantees every citizen the rights enshrined in the Convention while Article 154 (a) (4) allows a citizen who fears that his rights under the convention are about to be or have been contravened to apply to the HRC. “No Human Rights Commission has been established in Guyana consequently our client cannot seek protection and or enforce the rights conferred on him pursuant to the aforementioned International Convention in Guyana,” the petition adds, further noting that there is no functioning ERC as provided by Article 212 A of the Constitution.
In providing further evidence in support of the petition, it was noted that the Justice and Peace Commission of the Roman Catholic Church in Guyana has condemned the publication; President Donald Ramotar has failed to condemn the said publication; and that the Chairman of the Board of Directors (of the Chronicle) has confirmed that the author of the editorial continues and will continue to provide services to the Guyana Chronicle.
The letter to Nandlall, which bore yesterday’s date, pointed out that “there is no or no effective local remedy for breach of the rights conferred on our client” under the convention in the light of the failure of the state to establish the HRC.
The letter also pointed out that no functioning ERC exists and in the light of the circumstances surrounding the matter Lewis intends to pursue and enforce his rights under the international convention. Attached to the petition is a copy of the article, the statement from the Roman Catholic Church and a news item where Chairman of the Board of Directors confirmed the retention of the services of the author.
Following the editorial, there was widespread condemnation of its content, including a protest which prompted a public apology almost a week later. Board Chairman Keith Burrowes, in the apology, stated that the offending editorial may more than likely result in some resignation at the board level. Burrowes, who pointed out that he was not involved in the oversight of the edition, said that the editorial should not have gotten past the Editor and subsequently been published. “I’d like to make it abundantly clear that the views expressed in the publication by no means [are] a representation of the majority shareholders, the board nor the management and staff of Chronicle…” Burrowes stated.
Burrowes in his apology said that the Chronicle has given its outmost to ensure the promotion of racial harmony amongst citizens and has always tried to maintain a high moral and professional code of ethics in providing factual and balanced reporting.
He highlighted that action has and will be taken against the editor who was at the time on duty and the writer of the editorial and if others were found to be involved, they will also incur the relevant disciplinary action. In addition to this, Burrowes said that steps have been taken to ensure that there is no recurrence.
In a subsequent telephone interview with this newspaper Burrowes said that the editor of that July 2 edition Raschid Ousman was suspended for less than a week. Later when asked about the author, Parvati Persaud-Edwards he said that he did not realize that she was a freelancer.
He said that she will not be contributing any more editorials to the newspaper, however, she is still free to contribute articles.