Abolition of death penalty could go to referendum

President David Granger in discussion with Ivan Simonovic [right) and Navi Pillay, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, during their visit to the Ministry of the Presidency
President David Granger in discussion with Ivan Simonovic (right) and Navi Pillay, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, during their visit to the Ministry of the Presidency

Abolition of death penalty could go to referendum

 

By Ravin Singh

TO FACILITATE a consultative approach in determining whether the death penalty should be removed from Guyana’s statute books, President David Granger has said that the option of a referendum remains open.This proposition was made by the Head-of-State on Thursday, during the recording of his weekly television show, “The Public Interest”. According to the President, he is advised by a Cabinet, the National Assembly, his coalition partners, and the people of Guyana on matters of national importance, including possible abolition of the death penalty.

He reinforced the position that Guyana is an independent sovereign state and it is not for him to get ahead of what the Guyanese people want. As such, the President said, he does not envisage any circumstance under which he would be willing to assent to the death penalty, even though it remains on the books.

There has been a moratorium on the death penalty for over two decades, and he reasoned that if Cabinet and the National Assembly were to consider it, and there is a deadlock, the option of a referendum could be explored.

“…if there was a deadlock, we could go to a referendum. Let the people say what they want to occur in this jurisdiction; in the state of Guyana,” the President said.

He pointed to the fact that this form of consultation reflects openness and transparency. “I am aware of the advice which has been given. I have my personal views, which I have stated publicly; but I would say (that) in a final analysis, the democratic course of action should be to rely on the expressed intention of the National Assembly and, in the final analysis, the people themselves. If the people want to go to a referendum, it is something that is very expensive, but let the people speak,” President Granger said, adding that he will be guided by public opinion.

Asked whether the death penalty is one of Government’s priorities, the President said his priority is human beings who deserve a good life. He pointed specifically to the alleviation of poverty and the abolition of Guyana’s illiteracy.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Guyana’s illiteracy rate is 11.5 percent.

“I am concerned about human beings who deserve a good life. And If I can free young people from the burden, from illiteracy and dropping out of school; if I can free mothers and women from poverty, those are my big concerns. I’m not killing anybody; I’m not about to order the execution of anybody. It is not my priority to order the death penalty, and as I said, I await the advice of the National Assembly and the public of Guyana; I await their counsel,” he said.

Following the President’s announcement of his position on this issue, Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations Headquarters, expressed satisfaction with the President’s stance.

Simonovic said the President’s strong statements against assenting to capital punishment and seeking public consultation in the matter must be respected and appreciated. The assistant SG said he is especially appreciative of the President’s insistence on taking a decision only after the citizens of the country have been consulted and their views made known.

“[The] President’s statement that we have heard recently — that during his tenure there will not be any execution — is very encouraging. I would think that also it is very encouraging that the Government is thinking in terms of establishing a committee that will be reflecting on the issue of death penalty. It is extremely good, because experience in other countries has proven that the more you raise information, the more discussion (you have) about the death penalty, there is a strengthening of the trend of moving away from it; so we welcome this development very much. We also think that this discussion is a good opportunity to make a formal decision,” he said.

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