GHRA lauds Justice Chang’s Death Row ruling
Justice Ian Chang’s commutation of the death penalty of four prisoners to life imprisonment is a welcome rejoinder to the evasion and duplicity by popularity-pandering politicians over the years, according to the Guyana Human Rights Association.
Justice Chang’s verdict spotlights the incompatibility of the medieval cruelty of the death penalty with evolving minimum humanitarian standards acceptable to the modern world. Since the current ruling party came to power in 1992, it has made no bones about its preference for reviving hanging.
The GHRA said that the only restraint to ending the moratorium introduced by President Hoyte in 1990, following the hanging of the innocent Sylvester Sturge, has been growing worldwide revulsion at this practice, continuously communicated to the Government by the international community.
“This instinct for revenge on the part of the ruling party – no other rationale has been advanced for retaining the practice – has persisted despite the decaying quality of our local courts.”
In the same week that Justice Change ordered commutation, the Director of Public Prosecutions lamented the fact that five of 234 cases before the High Court had been completed in the last Assizes, the GHRA stated.
Since the death penalty is irrevocable, any system of justice that retains it as a sentencing option is claiming there is no possibility of error. Rather than prolong such illusions of perfection, legislators should be addressing the fundamental crisis in the High Court.
“Beneath the persistent controversy over the death penalty, corporal punishment and sexual orientation, is a vacuum of principle in the shaping of national policy. The concept of reviewing ethical standards to maintain a civilized society is viewed by the political class in general, as weakness.
“As a society we seem to fear being civilized. Guyana languishes in the Americas region at the bottom of both development indicators as well as those with the most reactionary legislation, in the three areas referred to.”
GHRA said that for a society born out of violence and coercion, the lesson is taking a long time to learn that repudiating cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is as vital to development as economic progress.
The only course of action, if the concept of justice means anything at all, is that the Minister of Home Affairs views Justice Chang’s judgement as a precedent for reviewing commutation of sentences of all of those prisoners on Death Row, said GHRA. The longest serving occupants have all served life sentences, it added.