Discussion commences on abolition of the death penalty

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Between 12-14th November 2018, a delegation of international experts on the death penalty are in Guyana to address the use of capital punishment in the country and prospects for moving towards abolition. The delegation has been organised with the support of the European Union and the British High Commission in Guyana.

Saul Lehrfreund, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project (UK) will be joined by Randy Susskind, Deputy Director of Equal Justice Initiative (USA) and Surinamese parliamentarians the Hon. Ms. Krishnakoemarie Mathoera and the Hon. Mr. Patrick Ciciel Kensenhuis. The international delegates will be supported by senior Guyanese lawyer C. A. 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. 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. In particular, attention will be drawn to the experience of the USA, 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 at 9 am on 13th November 2018 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.

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