By Ariana Gordon
THREE international experts on human rights and the abolition of the death penalty are in Guyana to engage all stakeholders, including the government and the judiciary on the need to abolish the death penalty.The trio – Dr Ivan Simonovic, Professor Marc Bossuyt and Navi Pillay – are here as part of a Judicial Colloquium on the Abolition of the Death Penalty held at the Marriott Hotel, Kingston.
Pillay, Commissioner of the International Commission against the Death Penalty told reporters on Wednesday, that she is hopeful that Guyana would re-examine its terrorism legislation with specific attention being placed on the death penalty.
She said the Terrorism Act has 12 provisions relative to the death penalty.
“You don’t pass a law just because something terrible has happened; law is not done emotionally. The rule of law follows international standards and Guyana is very much a part of the international community, has passed many international treaties and so they are bound to pass laws that are certain and definite and not responding each time to terrorism acts committed here, France or wherever,” she said.
Pillay noted the importance of complying with international law and the many conventions to which Guyana is a signatory. She said it is important to not only have a 20-year moratorium on the death penalty, but to abolish it.
Guyana, like many other countries, has laws enacted to sentence terrorists to death, but she believes that the institution of the death penalty is inhumane.
Guyana’s law has been amended to allow the death penalty only in circumstances where members of the Joint Services or the judiciary are killed while on duty.
Her plea came just prior to the beginning of the judicial colloquium comprising local judges and magistrates.
“We will lend our voice to ask Guyana to advance forward and not go backward,” said Justice Pillay, who noted that Guyana should be proud that no executions have taken place here for the past 20 years.
She believes that the trio’s visit to Guyana is timely and said discussions have been held with both the Government and Opposition.
“We want to continue meetings with Government representatives the rest of today and early tomorrow.”
Justice Pillay reminded that the United Nations (UN) has specific requirements for counter terrorism measures, but must still comply with International Humanitarian Law.
She believes Guyana should take the first step in formalising its position on the death penalty by outlawing it.
“Make it into law — not just de facto moratorium — because if it is just de facto, it hangs over people all the time. I know in certain countries such as Gambia… as soon as there was a change in the President, he executed nine people in one day. This is what happens when you have to rely on something that is not written in law, so it can be ignored by successive Governments.”
The commissioner said the statement by President David Granger that he would not be executing anyone is a step in the right direction.
She described the statement by President Granger as an important one, but stressed that it has to be translated into law.
Justice Pillay said in examining some of the social issues prevalent in Guyana, it should be noted from the statements made by President Granger that much has been tried to curb instances of domestic violence, but to no avail.
She believes that what is needed is an integrated approach, community involvement and education that stresses on values.
“You don’t want what was forced upon you more than 50 years ago… I address the young people of Guyana — you are not alone in the problems you face but each and every one of you can do something to develop a Caribbean culture of values,” said Justice Pillay, who noted that Guyana is the lone country in South America that has not abolished the death penalty.
Meanwhile, United Nations Assistant Secretary- General, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovi?, said Guyana is not alone when facing the challenge of terrorism.
He said as chair of a working group on protecting human rights while countering terrorism in New York, it has been discovered that there is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty deters crime, including terrorism.
“It is the first period of human history where the majority of member states have abolished the death penalty, so it would be good for Guyana to be on the right side of history.”
Šimonovi? noted too the fact that UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon has spoken out against the death penalty should be deemed significant in the eyes of countries such as Guyana.
He said in the past, other Secretaries-General were cautious when speaking about the death penalty and moratorium resolutions.
CRUEL AND INHUMANE
The UN Secretary-General referred to the death penalty as a “cruel and inhumane practice.”
Professor Marc Bossuyt, Emeritus President of the Constitution Court of Belgium who agreed with his colleagues, said in a comparison of countries that have abolished the death penalty, it was observed that “the more people are exposed to information about the death penalty, the more likely they are to move away from the death penalty.”
He said human rights and anti-death penalty activists would very much like to see the death penalty removed from any legislation here.
Professor Bossuyt said too that Guyana has taken the first step through the statement of President Granger that no executions will take place here, but noted that the country can also “sign and ratify the second optional protocol which was adopted in 1989 at the General Assembly of the UN.”
The protocol is aimed at the abolition of the death penalty. Some 81 states are party to the protocol and he believes that becoming party to it “is the best way of taking that commitment internationally.”
“If you look at the map of South America, Guyana is now the only country that has not abolished capital punishment…. so either you remain a particular island in the continent or you join the others in that direction.”
He stressed, however, that it is not a matter of criminal policy but a matter of human rights and the right to life.
“We value very highly the right to life and we think that executing people is contrary to the right to life which is the most basic of all human rights,” the Professor stated.
He noted that in those countries where the death penalty has been abolished, it was not a result of general consensus, but a matter of leadership of the political directorate who are cognisant of the fact that the death penalty “has no place in the civilised world of today.”
“One has to show leadership by abolishing the death penalty…. public opinion will, even if some people were opposed to it, they will understand that this has no place in modern society,” he added.