A couple who son was recently slain held placards in Georgetown. The placards asked for hangings to be resumed in Guyana. It was an emotional plea from parents who lost their son to the hands of a killer(s) who still remain large.
The death penalty has been an issue on which many Guyanese have their own views and stand. It has been one of the most contentious issues in these modern times. The death penalty, along with corporal punishment, still very debatable issues, are both still in the Laws of Guyana. Even though the last execution took place in 1997, many persons are still on death row awaiting their journey to the gallows.
The death penalty is perhaps a bigger issue on the world scene. While many countries have retained the use of capital punishment, others have slowly reduced the number of death row executions. In the USA, 35 states have the death penalty, while 15 do not. Texas has carried out the most executions this year (16), bringing the total number of executions since 1976 to 463. The other states have fairly small numbers of executions on an annual basis, due to severe pressure on their state politicians from human rights groups like Amnesty International.
Is the death penalty a deterrent to persons who may want to commit serious crimes? Not according to a recent study of high ranking officials in top academic criminological societies. Radelet & Lacock 2009 state that, “88 % of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.” In addition, a 2009 FBI crime report showed that, “the South has the highest murder rate. South accounts for over 80% of executions. The Northeast, which has less than 1% of all executions, again had the lowest murder rate”.
Persons are beginning to commit more and more heinous crimes with no fear in mind about any particular capital punishment which may result as a consequence of their actions. This is explicitly evident in our own local society. True it is, though, that criminals enter into criminal activities knowing fully well that even if they would be caught and convicted, sentenced and possibly sent to death row, that they would never actually see their sentence enforced.
For many, the death penalty borders on religion. Many religions have their own doctrinal beliefs and positions on this issue. It is formidable in almost every Christian sect. Catholicism rejects the use of capital punishment as it advances its pro-life mechanisms around the world that oppose abortion and the death penalty. However, the Catechism, or the book of teachings of that Church, suggest otherwise, when, if I were to paraphrase paragraph 2267, states that the death penalty can and must be used when it is the only practicable way to defend lives of people against criminals. This paints a picture of separation of Church and State, to say that if the State needs to use the death penalty to preserve the peace, then so be it. It is not the Church’s job to determine this, however.
Save for six countries, including Turkey and Senegal, all Islamic countries permit the use of the death penalty. Arguably or not, the crime rate in Islamic countries that use capital punishment have very low crime rates.
While all other world religions prohibit the taking of human life, Hinduism, on the other hand, has given mixed signals on the issue. India still retains the use of capital punishment.
So, while some have sided with their religious belief on the matter, others have independently taken positions that are for capital punishment.
Presidents under both the PNC and PPP have had executions carried out under their presidency. They were Presidents Desmond Hoyte and Cheddi Jagan. It is widely said that President Hoyte used it during a period of high criminal activity in Guyana, and that it helped the situation.
It is a mystery, though, as to why capital punishment is still in our law books, persons sentenced to death, but no execution has been forthcoming for over a decade now. What then is the real purpose for it being law, when there has only been partial fulfillment of that law to date?
It is my view that the government of the day, therefore, is displaying a ‘half foot out, half foot in’ strategy with capital punishment, just the same as is currently the case with corporal punishment, which is still in our law-books but not really used in public schools.
The government and the opposition, which I am sure, are for the use of capital punishment, must therefore stand before the nation and the human rights bodies in Guyana and abroad and make known their opened position on the matter and outline a solid direction which they would take. It must be bold in declaring the fact that this form of punishment has been kept in the law books for decades upon decades for purposes which were carefully and meticulously discussed, deliberated, drafted, debated, agreed upon and subsequently signed into law during a previous government. The government must show why it has retained that same law even to the present day.
There is a wide acceptance to capital punishment in many countries. Most persons, who oppose it, do so from a religious or human rights stand point. What are the thoughts of Guyanese on this issue? Would you wish to see someone die for a serious crime he or she commits? Perhaps not! But if you were scarred for life with painful memories and made to endure the loss of a loved one, like the couple I mentioned at the beginning of my essay, then maybe you’d have a change of heart on the issue in a split-second. Then, you’d forget all the human rights issues and see the other side of the coin; the side that hungers and thirsts for justice to be served: to repay death with death. For many, only then can their wounds and hurts be healed.
Leon Jameson Suseran
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