A decision that attracts controversy
The death penalty is still on the statutes. The courts still hand down the death sentence but the state no longer executes anyone. Some say that this is so because a group of lawyers had filed a motion in the courts based on a Human Rights convention entered into with the United Nations.
At the time the state was moving to execute some of the men who had been on Death Row for some time. Among them was Noel Thomas who had the warrant for his execution read to him twice. His co-conspirator, Abdul Saleem Yassin, subsequently died in prison, cheating the gallows.
Since then, the gallows have not been used. Perhaps Guyana was acceding to calls by the various Human Rights bodies seeking an abolition of the death penalty. These bodies all contend that the death penalty was inhumane and was not really a deterrent to serious offences. There were others who argued that the death penalty was state sanctioned murder and that the state would be equally as guilty as the sentenced convict.
The United States, one of the leaders in the world when it comes to monitoring human rights abuses, has been accused of some of the worst abuses but this has not prevented that country from dictating to others the way people should behave.
However, the United States allows each state to have its own laws. That is why some have abolished the death penalty but they have rigid sentencing. For example, judges in those jurisdictions can impose a sentence that would confine a man to prison for the rest of his natural life. The southern states have maintained the death penalty.
Guyana, caught in limbo, has not been executing anyone. This had led to the international community to accuse the government of cruel and inhuman treatment by having someone on Death Row for an inordinately long time.
The courts do not impose sentences that forego parole. That is why a life sentence in Guyana does not mean jail until death. Further, the courts are humane and therefore impose sentences that run concurrently, unless the crime is extremely serious. And this is rare. Now the courts have taken things a bit further.
It was not so long that the High Court began to grant bail to murder accused. Many people charged with murder were made to remain in prison for an inordinately long time. There were cases of murder accused facing preliminary inquiries on no less than three occasions. Magistrates would demit office sometimes leaving unfinished cases behind.
If the unfinished case is a preliminary inquiry then the entire matter has to be restarted. Both the accused and the witnesses are inconvenienced. It was here that the court intervened. It granted bail to the murder accused who would have suffered an undue period of incarceration. The first time this happened there was a hue and cry; people had grown accustomed to the excesses of the courts.
Yesterday, Chief Justice Ian Chang heard a challenge by some death Row inmates. They had been on Death Row for as long as 20 years, awaiting their appointment with the hangman. Such a lengthy delay has been seen around the world as cruel and inhuman.
Two of them who had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment had their death warrants read to them on February 3, 2000. From the time the warrant was read they began preparing for the day when they would undertake a walk from which they would not return. They have been living under the shadow of the gallows ever since then.
The society may not be too happy that their sentences have been commuted. They committed some of the most heinous crimes and they should have paid. Some say that they have paid while others now say that they have not paid enough.
The jury is now out. Should these people be released immediately? Of course, the bulk of the society, the young people, are not aware of the crimes these people committed so they would not care less. However, those who suffered the loss believe that there should have been an eye for an eye.