Statement of His Excellency Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, at the swearing-in ceremony of the members of the Ethnic Relations Commission on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

President Ali: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed each year on the 21st of March. This year’s observance is of special significance as it falls during the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that all persons are equal in dignity and human rights. It decrees that everyone, regardless of race, colour or nationality, is entitled to the enjoyment of such rights. As a consequence, it declares that all human beings should act in brotherhood and sisterhood towards each other. Respect for the human rights of individuals lies at the very foundation of human dignity and consequently must form the basis of eliminating racial discrimination.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in turnasserts that doctrines of racial superiority are “scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous”, unjustifiable and an affront to human dignity and human rights.

Article 9 (2) of the ‘Declaration’ is emphatic in stating:

All incitement to or acts of violence, whether by individuals or organizations, against any race or group of persons of another colour of ethnic group shall be considered an offence against society and punishable by law.

My Government remains committed to the process of eliminating all forms of racial discrimination. We work daily, long and hard, through our One Guyana Initiative, to promote equality, compassion, opportunities and stability for the advancement of all Guyanese. 

We take seriously any attempts to instigate racial animosity and racial violence within our country.  We severely condemn attempts that provoke racial conflict in our society and will ensure that those guilty are subject to the sanctions imposed by law.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I urge all Guyanese to reject racially-laced rhetoric or to be misled by those who wish to use race and ethnicity to stoke divisions and hatred in our society.

My Government will continue, under the One Guyana agenda, to promote harmonious relations within our society, relations that are rooted in respect for human rights, the multicultural character of our society and the equal dignity of all.

I continue to urge all Guyanese to refute every tongue that utters threats and instigates hatred. In so doing, we will ensure that no weapon aimed at dividing our people and pitting any segment against another shall prosper.

As we work to excise the cancer of racial discrimination from our societies, let us join the international community in heralding the importance of this day which reminds us that no matter the colour of one’s skin, we are all part of this common human family and each of us is equal in dignity and rights.

I, therefore, congratulate the members of the Ethnic Relations Commission who have just taken their oaths of service.

The commission is a creature of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. Its composition is determined in accordance with the provisions of the highest law of our land. Its functions include promoting harmony, and good relations between persons of different ethnic groups, discouraging and prohibiting persons, institutions, political parties and associations from indulging in, advocating or promoting discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, investigating any issues affecting ethnic relations, promoting the elimination of all forms of ethnic discrimination.

It is fitting that today’s reconstituting of the Ethnic Relations Commission is taking place on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Commission can play a pivotal role in identifying and addressing ethnic discrimination, and in making recommendations for eliminating racial discord in our society.

The roots of ethnic prejudice and division are by no means unique to Guyana alone. We can learn much from others around the world in ensuring greater ethnic harmony but we can also offer to the world in terms of the absence of major religious conflict and violence.

Racial, religious and cultural divisions, if allowed to become malignant, will eat away the very fabric of our society, disrupting human and social relations, retarding national development, and corroding national values.

In other parts of the world, we have seen the deaths, injuries and carnage resulting from such conflicts. Diversity is an asset we must value and cherish. Greater inclusion and equality are goals to which we must continuously aspire.

The Commission’s challenge will be to insulate itself from the divisions which it seeks to overcome in society. The work of the Commission is nonpartisan. It must rise above sectarian interests and work for the common good of our society. In doing so, its work with attract greater public confidence.

I urge those who have taken their oath of office to discharge of their studies with honesty, integrity, fairness, and a clear conscience. I wish all success to the newly constituted Ethnic Relations Commission.

Before I close, I thank the Speaker, the Clerk of the National Assembly, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, the Prime Minister and all Members of Parliament for executing their responsibility in getting the names to the Office of the President so today you can be sworn in.

Thank you. God bless you, and good luck.