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Guyana being lobbied to suspend death penalty

Amnesty International and the charitable not-for-profit Justice Institute of Guyana are lobbying for an official suspension of hanging convicted prisoners, according to a United Nations report.

Prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  for the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the 21st Session of the Universal Periodic Review scheduled for January 19 to 30, 2015; the report says that representatives of the London-based Amnesty International met officials of the Guyana government in 2014.

That human rights organisation is working with the Justice Institute to “advocate for an official moratorium on the death penalty with the aim of its ultimate abolition.” A number of public events and meetings have been held in Guyana to heighten awareness about the need and importance of suspending the death penalty.

Resolution 67/176 by the United Nations General Assembly that was passed on December 20, 2012 calls on Guyana and several other countries around the world to suspend the death penalty because  any miscarriage or failure of justice in the implementation of the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable. “Convinced that a moratorium on the use of the death penalty contributes to respect for human dignity and to the enhancement and progressive development of
human rights, and considering that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty,” states the resolution.

The General Assembly in that resolution also welcomed the steps taken by countries to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed and the decisions made by an increasing number of States, at all levels of government, to apply a moratorium on executions, followed in many cases by the abolition of the death penalty.

Guyana last executed a death row prisoner in 1997. The Guyana Report for the UPR states that there are 13 male prisoners on death row.

An amendment to the death penalty that provides for persons to hanged in limited cases such as murder of a police officer on duty or treason, has seen 15 prisoners on death row having had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment during the past five years. A number of these, according to the report, will be coming up for parole in the next three years. One prisoner on death row was exonerated in 2012.

When Guyana comes up for review on Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council will hear that a Parliamentary Special Select Committee failed to focus on the death penalty and instead on corporal punishment. The report on Guyana noted that the parliamentary committee had been specifically tasked with seeking to determine the attitude of Guyanese, particularly the families of victims, criminologists, and professionals, on capital punishment and its possible abolition.

Amnesty International wants Guyana to commute without delay all death sentences to terms of imprisonment, pending the full abolition of the death penalty, esure rigorous compliance in all death penalty cases with international standards for fair trial and ratify without reservations the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at abolition of the death penalty.