The abolition of capital punishment is being brought to the fore for discussion with the aim of moving towards abolition. The discussion in this regard is being spearheaded by a delegation of international experts currently here in Guyana until Friday.
The delegation was organised through the support of the European Union and the British High Commission in Guyana.
Saul Lehrfreund, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project of UK is being joined by Randy Susskind; Deputy Director of Equal Justice Initiative of the US and Surinamese parliamentarians the Hon. Ms. Krishnakoemarie Mathoera and the Hon. Mr. Patrick Ciciel Kensenhuis. The international delegates will be supported by prominent Guyanese lawyer Nigel Hughes, who will provide expertise on the death penalty in Guyana.
Although Guyana has not carried out any executions since 1997, death sentences continue to be imposed, and there are currently 17 people on death row. Guyana’s continued retention of capital punishment marks it as an outlier not only within the region, as it is the only South American country that still has the death penalty, but also on the global stage, where a majority of the world’s nations have now abolished capital punishment.
The death penalty was imposed on Guyana through British colonial rule. Since then the UK has rejected capital punishment and today is vocal in advocating for global abolition.
A combination of factors were behind the UK’s decision to abolish the death penalty in 1965, including a recognition that the punishment disproportionately affects the most marginalised and vulnerable members of society and, importantly, could not be imposed without error, arbitrariness and cruelty. This was made clear by several high-profile executions which raised concerns that the innocent, mentally disabled and vulnerable were being executed.
Wrongful convictions remain a distressing reality wherever the death penalty is imposed, it has been noted.
In 2016, at least 60 death row prisoners were exonerated around the world. The inevitability of error in capital sentencing will be a recurring theme throughout the delegation’s presentations. In particular, attention will be drawn to the experience of the US, where for every nine people executed, one death row prisoner has been exonerated.
Meetings will be held with policymakers and key stakeholders including senior government ministers, members of parliament, the Bar Association of Guyana, criminal law practitioners and human rights advocates.
A public lecture will also be held today at the National Library in Georgetown to promote debate and increase understanding of key human rights issues relating to the use of the death penalty in Guyana.
The Death Penalty Project is an independent legal action charity housed and supported by London legal firm Simons Muirhead and Burton LLP. For more than 30 years, The Death Penalty Project has worked to promote and protect the human rights of those facing the death penalty.
The Equal Justice Initiative [EJI] is a non-profit organization based in Alabama, United States.
EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. It is expected that these initiatives will help to bring Guyana on board the abolition of the death penalty movement too.
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