Death penalty

head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Guyana, Jernej Videtic has reiterated calls for the Government of Guyana to abolish the death penalty. Guyana has not abolished the death penalty, but the last execution of a death row prisoner was in 1997.

There is, however, a standstill in the use of the death penalty despite the fact that criminals are still being sentenced to death. However, two years ago, the country had committed to the United Nations to join the worldwide efforts to abolish capital punishment, which is deemed inhumane and completely ineffective in deterring crime.

The fact that Guyana made this commitment means it is mandated to review its laws and abolish the death penalty. Guyana’s laws in their present form state that an individual convicted of a capital offence “shall be liable to suffer death as a felon”. Under Article 19 of the Criminal (Offences) Law, courts may not substitute punishments not specifically stated for death-eligible offences, so courts appear to have no discretion in sentencing.

Article 164 of the Criminal (Procedure) Law provides that when a person is convicted of an offence punishable by death, “the Court shall thereupon pronounce [the] sentence of death”.

According to statistics from Amnesty International, 140 countries abolished the death penalty in 2014, by law or practice. This is significant given that when the organisation started its campaign against the death penalty in 1997, only 16 countries had abolished this punishment for all crimes. Seven countries that carried out executions in 2013 did not do so in 2014 – Bangladesh, Botswana, Indonesia, India, Kuwait, Nigeria, and South Sudan.

The idea of sentencing someone to death is hard to completely comprehend. The physical mechanics involved in the act of execution are easy to grasp, but not the emotions involved in carrying out a death sentence on another person, regardless of how much they deserve it, thus the inhumanity of such an act is what has been the driving force for its abolishment.

There are many arguments used for and against the death penalty, including whether the biblical term “an eye for an eye” should be referred to in the case of the death penalty or whether it teaches the wrong ideas about killing if justified.

But does the State killing someone by imposing the death penalty really means they are punished for the crime they committed? One local leading legal luminary in his argument against the death penalty pointed out justice must also make sense. He noted that punishment by execution is no punishment at all. It ends when the State exacts the penalty. The punishment ends after the execution has been carried out. After that, it’s over.

This argument contends that perpetrators are, therefore, not truly being punished for their crime. As such, removal of freedom for a prolonged period of time it has been argued is a much more effective penalty.

The UN has long argued that the evidence demonstrate that the death penalty is cruel, irrevocable and a violation of the right to life and it has no particular deterrent effect on violent crime.

Last year, at the Caribbean Regional Conference on the abolition of the death penalty at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Minister Raphael Trotman, who was the Governance Minister at the time, had recommitted Guyana towards the abolishment of the death penalty.Trotman highlighted that Guyana already took steps towards the abolishing of the death penalty by not practising this inhumane form of criminal punishment.

It is time our country vigorously moves towards the ban of judicial death. It is also time that our legislative arm moves forward with our commitment to the United Nations and end this inhumanity.