ERC teams up with UN local office in Countering Hate Speech campaign

ERC teams up with UN local office in Countering Hate Speech campaign

By Svetlana Marshall

In partnership with the United Nations Guyana Office, the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC today launched a Countering Hate Speech Campaign.

The launch took place at the National Library in observance of the International Day for Countering Hate Speech.

According to Deputy Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission, Charles Ogle, the campaign is designed to counter hate speech through the dissemination of information on the harm associated with such speech, while simultaneously sharing positive messages.

Ogle said while Guyana can be truly proud of its rich diversity, like any plural society, it has its challenges that are rooted in the historical legacies of colonialism, slavery and indentureship.

He said in Guyana, hate speech primarily targets individuals based on ethnicity, race, and political association, and to a lesser extent disability and sexual preference.

“In the past year, the ERC has manually monitored and recovered over 134 instances of hate speech, with 103 violations based on race, seven on religion, and 24 xenophobic violations. The Commission has taken significant steps to address these violations through cautionary warnings, mediation, reconciliation, and for severe cases, referral to the Guyana Police Force,” the Deputy Chairman said. 

He said in keeping with its mandate, the ERC continues to promote harmony and good relations among the Guyanese people, and therefore finds it crucial to counter hate speech, particularly ahead of the 2025 Elections. 

“Crucially, the ERC has prioritized public education and awareness as a proactive measure to discourage hate speech and foster respect, tolerance and kindness. The Countering Hate Speech Campaign aims to expand these efforts by partnering with UN Guyana to execute this important initiative,” Ogle said. 

 The UN Resident Coordinator, Yesim Oruc, said the UN has a long history of supporting the work of the ERC, and is pleased to support the Countering Hate Speech Campaign. 

She noted that hate speech continues to evolve and has been taking different forms, particularly now with the increasing use of the internet and social media.

Oruc said it was for that reason that the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, launched the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech in 2019, which highlights the UN’s ongoing commitment to promote peaceful, inclusive and just societies. 

Minister of Governance – Gail Teixeira

“Hate speech is a marker of discrimination, abuse, violence, conflict and even crimes against humanity. There is no international legal definition of hate speech, but the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action outlines a parameter for hate speech which is ‘any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are. It often targets a broad range of groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, belief, or political affiliation. Most times, we observe women, migrants, people living with disabilities, person with certain health status, gender-diverse and the LGBTI community at the centre of hate speech” the UN Resident Coordinator explained. 

The UN official said addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech, but rather preventing hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, said all are equal, and therefore, members of society ought to treat each other with respect and tolerance. Hate speech, she said, undermines that respect, and could lead to severe conflicts in society.

“I do believe that the family is the place where values and principles are taught to children, I really do believe that. Too much of what I reach in the newspaper sometimes, is about school do this, government do this, and school do this and the teachers must do this, yes, yes, yes. But as families, we have a duty where there are children in our homes, whether they are ours or adopted to teach values and principles. And what are the values and principles that we need to teach our children, that we are equal, that we do respect, that we do tolerate differences, and the foundation is in the home regardless, of how that home is constructed,” Minister Teixeira. 

As part of the Countering Hate Speech Campaign, the ERC will launch a social media campaign, while hosting a number of workshops and awareness sessions, targeting youth, social media influencers, and deejays.

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