By Rabindra Rooplall
Forty Death Row inmates are appealing their death sentence since the National Assembly in October 2010, voted to amend the Act abolishing the mandatory imposition of the death penalty against people convicted of murder. However, the death penalty remains applicable for certain categories of murder.
This was done when Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Charles Ramson, successfully piloted the Criminal Law Offences (Amendment) Bill.
It will still be mandatory for certain categories of murder which includes the killing of a law enforcement official while on duty, prison officers, members of the judiciary and legal officers, witnesses, as well as jurors, while in the execution of their duties.
The amendments allow for a judge to issue a life sentence of or a minimum of 15 years or any amount above that.
At least 23 countries were known to have carried out judicial executions in 2010. This is four more than 2009, when Amnesty International recorded the lowest number of executing countries since the organisation began monitoring death penalty figures.
Sixty-seven countries imposed death sentences in 2010, under methods of execution which included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.
Before the change in the legislation Guyana was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review on May 11, 2010, and it was reported that Guyana voluntarily committed to continue to consider and consult on the abolition of the death penalty and to report to the Human Rights Council on the matter in two years.
However, countries that retain the death penalty defended their position by claiming that their use of the death penalty is consistent with international human rights law. Their actions blatantly contradicted these claims.
According to Amnesty International, the death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is done in the name of justice. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It was noted that too many governments still believe that they can solve urgent social or political problems by executing a few or even hundreds of their prisoners. Many people all over the world are still unaware that the death penalty offers society not further protection but further brutalization. Abolition is gaining ground, but not fast enough.
“The death penalty, carried out in the name of the nation’s entire population, affects everyone. Everyone should be aware of what the death penalty is, how it is used, how it affects them, how it violates fundamental rights,” Amnesty International noted. “We oppose it regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner.”
In fact, the progress made towards abolition of the death penalty during the past ten years alone is enormous, with more than 30 countries becoming abolitionist in law or in practice. This positive trend continued in 2010.
The Human Rights Committee has repeatedly stated that the automatic and mandatory imposition of the death penalty constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life, in violation of Article 6, paragraph 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in circumstances where the death penalty is imposed without any possibility of taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence.
Many retentionist states, among them Guyana, continue to impose the death penalty and execute people for crimes that do not meet the threshold of “most serious” according to international law.
In July 2010 the London-based Privy Council commuted the sentence of Earlin White, who had been sentenced to death for murder in Belize in 2003. In its judgement, the Privy Council indicated one reason for the commutation was the lack of assessment of the social welfare and psychiatric condition of the defendant at the time of sentencing.
In June 2010 however, the Caribbean Court of Justice Act came into effect in Belize, renouncing the Privy Council and establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final Court of Appeal for all civil and criminal cases in the country. Transitional provisions allow for pending appeals to be considered by the Privy Council.
The right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment are recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other international human rights instruments and many national constitutions.
Amnesty International believes that the death penalty in all circumstances violates these rights.
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