Guyana abstains from voting on death penalty ban at UN

For the first time in several years, Guyana last year abstained from voting on a United Nations Resolution in favour of a moratorium on the death penalty.

A section of the panellists who attended the high-level meeting

Guyana’s position has taken the international community by surprise, since, previously, the country voted against the death penalty ban.
In fact, the United Nations Biennial High-Level Panel on the death penalty, which met last week in Geneva, said it has taken note of Guyana’s decision to abstain from voting while Melinda Janki, a member of the High Level Panel, described Guyana’s move as a ‘success’.
Though the death penalty is still enshrined in Guyana’s laws, the last execution was done in 1997. As of February 2017, there were 25 persons on death row. The death penalty is directly linked to the period of colonialism but while it still obtains in some Commonwealth countries, the United Kingdom amended its laws in 1965 to eliminate it.
Janki, according to a press statement, condemned the death penalty as barbaric and said that “like slavery, the death penalty says that some people are less than others”. She reminded countries that the Dutch and British colonial powers in Guyana used the death penalty to terrorise enslaved Africans and that even today inequality was hardwired into Caribbean societies. She also pointed out that the death penalty was also applied in a discriminatory way.
According to her, in the English-speaking Caribbean, death sentences tend not to be imposed on the rich and powerful, but only on the poor and the powerless, the illiterate, the under-educated and the mentally challenged.
“Unlike the rich who could secure top-quality legal representation, the marginalised were often left with mediocre legal representation and a serious risk of wrongful conviction,” she highlighted.
Janki pointed out that States had an obligation to protect all of their citizens not just those people who Governments and Judges believed should be protected.
She added that: “Even the United States of America, which is such a rich and powerful country, is now infamous for the number of innocent people who have been sentenced to death in its courts.”
Last December, some 121 States, including Dominica, voted in favour of the UN resolution for a global moratorium on executions, while 32 countries, including Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda, abstained.
According to the UN, 35 States, including China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan, and US, which voted against the resolution, are clearly out of step with the global trend towards abolition.