Caribbean Governments, including Guyana, are being called upon to lead the conversation for the abolition of the death penalty as a regional conference opened in Georgetown on Monday.
The European Union, in cooperation with the British High Commission and the International Commission against the Death Penalty organised the conference so that the situation of the death penalty in the Caribbean region and the experiences of other countries can be considered.
Guyana’s Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman addressed the opening of the conference and declared that the matter no doubt remains a very controversial one.
He gave no clear indication whether Guyana was supportive of the death penalty or against its abolition but said Guyana welcomes, what he described as a “thought provoking conference. “
“Are we ready to take that step and do we have the political will? These are the questions that need to be answered in the near and medium term future,” Trotman said. He acknowledged that while the death penalty remains law in Guyana there is an unspoken moratorium in effect where it was not applied in sentencing for over two decades.
He also reminded of moves by the Guyana Parliament several years ago to remove the mandatory death sentence for people convicted of murder. Trotman said countries must not be afraid to take the bold step; even as the EU has stretched out a hand offering financial and other forms of support to Guyana should it abolish the death penalty.
EU Ambassador to Guyana, Jernej Videtic was keen to note the political leadership and will that any move towards the abolition of the death penalty will require. He recognised the recent positive development in Suriname; having taken the death penalty off its books earlier this year. According to Mr Videtic, the abolition of the death penalty remains one of the main human rights issue for the EU.
Countries and their citizens were also put on notice that abolition does not mean those found guilty of heinous crimes will not be banished, in fact Secretary General of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, Dr. Asunta Cavaller supports banishment to fix the crime, but not the death penalty. “By doing this you run the risk of executing innocent people, targets those who are marginalised, ethnic minorities and people who don’t have access to defence lawyers or are denied a fair trial, it alienates right to life and human dignity.
It is cruel, inhumane and degrading,” she said. Meanwhile, Lord Nanit Dholakia of the UK All Parliamentary Committee on the Abolition of the Death Penalty argued that there was no evidence anywhere in the world that proved that by establishing the death sentence it has reduced crime.
He called on civil society to press their governments to abolish such laws. He also urged government’s not to hide behind public opinion on this matter but lead public opinion.