By: Alexis Rodney
President David Granger has made clear his position on the death penalty issue in Guyana, noting that he has no intention of executing anyone. The Head of State was speaking on his weekly televised programme “The Public Interest” on Thursday.
Although the death penalty remains enshrined in Guyana’s laws, there has not been any execution for many years. According to the President, the death penalty remains on the statute books but government is yet to pronounce on whether it will be abolished or not.
“I don’t have any intentions of executing anyone. Some people feel that the death penalty is a deterrent; some feel that it is not, but I do not have any intentions of approving the execution of anyone”.
He said some people think that, “it is best on the books as a last resort. There is a difference and there is no single statement out of the government whether it will abolish the death penalty or not. In due course, we will arrive at a position, but right now, no. I agree there are two points of view”.
Guyana has committed to join the worldwide efforts to abolish capital punishment, which is deemed inhumane and completely ineffective in deterring crime.
Guyana has not abolished the death penalty, but there is a moratorium on its use, despite the fact that criminals are still being sentenced to death.
Guyana’s last execution was in 1997.
More than 100 countries have already made significant strides in abolishing the death penalty, either by law or by practice. According to statistics from a report compiled by Amnesty International, 140 countries have 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.
Despite this remarkable progress, there was a recorded 28 per cent increase in the number of executions in 2014 when compared with 2013. There were 2466 death sentences in 55 countries in 2014, with a total of 607 executions. This figure excludes China, which executed more persons than the rest of the world combined.
The top five countries which still execute prisoners on death row are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the USA.
Additionally, seven other countries resumed executions – Belarus, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Jordan, Pakistan, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.
Three years ago, Guyana made a commitment to the United Nations to abolish the death penalty. Attorney General Basil Williams had recently recommitted Guyana to erasing capital punishment from its books.
Guyana’s laws state (without providing for alternatives) that an individual convicted of a capital offence “shall be liable to suffer death as a felon”.
In addition, legislation provides that murder and felony murder in the course of terrorism are “punishable by death”.
While this language is ambiguous, 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”.