No one can be trusted with the death penalty in Guyana

Dear Editor,

I totally disagree with the conclusion of Rooplall Dudhnath in his letter published under the caption, ‘Guyana should retain the death penalty’ (SN, December 21). I wonder what knowledge base or study he is channelling when he opines that the death penalty gives closure to the families of victims of murder. It is more than presumptuous for us to just casually come up with these kinds of conjectures, moreso when its legal imposition is being proposed for a diverse ethnic and religious society, including many for whom the death penalty is inconsistent with their religious beliefs, and reminiscent of a traumatic historical group experience.

I am against the death penalty generally because of the predisposition of people to act on and form conclusions based on assumptions that are primarily subjective, and most often products of ignorance, bias and prejudice. But more specifically, I am against the death penalty in Guyana particularly because of valid evidence that this society, as a whole, is incapable of embracing the fundamental moral and ethical premise upon which the law is founded. I tried and tried, and I am yet to come across another society with the kinds of moral and ethical fractures and disfigurements that has replaced those social and cultural mores we once held sacred.

The first question I would put forth to challenge the proposition that the death penalty can be administered in a manner that is fair and balanced in Guyana would be: What moral, ethical and legal authority or body can citizens count on to be guarantors that the death penalty will not be used unequally and vindictively? Remember we are talking about potential injustice that can neither be replaced or reversed. Once carried out, no appeal, no new technological, scientific or other form of exculpatory evidence can reverse it. So citizens in any society in which it is the law must be able to count on public, private and religious institutions to be the watchdogs over its implementation. And thus my question, which of these qualifies as repositories for such faith and confidence on the part of the citizens of Guyana. For me, and I say and defend this unapologetically, absolutely none of the above.

The only authority in which the legal power is established to visit disobedience against the law in Guyana with punitive consequences, is the courts of the land. Under our laws citizens are entitled to certain rights whether they are suspected or accused of violation of the law or not. They are entitled to live in a society where the law is enforced without favour or affection, malice or ill-will.

They are entitled when they are suspects to due process and the presumption of innocence. They are entitled to be free of fear of being tortured, beaten, violated, in pursuit of them providing self-incriminating evidence to secure their conviction.

Editor how can anyone, or at least, any rational individual or group, whether private or public, casually accept the death penalty as a punitive measure for certain kinds of crime in a society comprising just over 700,000 inhabitants, and where an unknown number were murdered, yes murdered, by extra judicial actions by public and private individuals? Moreso when for some bizarre and perverse reason the magnitude of that happening does not seem to penetrate those who will be responsible for the administration and imposition of the death penalty? How can any nation with that kind of recent legacy consider the use of the death penalty while that infamy is yet to be resolved? And does the fact that not one person has been charged and convicted, not render the death penalty the most dangerous threat to justice, to the expectation of equality under the law, in a nation with that recent history?

Benjamin Franklin opined that, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” And that is directly associated with the psychological fractures and disfigurements of the collective mindset we bring to arguments, positions, discussions and opinions on what should be or not be with regard to the law in Guyana. Law enforcement, juries, judiciaries, governments that are clearly unaffected by one of the most dangerous and frightening episodic happenings to have occurred in a society, and which represent direct challenges to the integrity of their professional obligations, their character, their acceptance that if the rule of law is not available to the worst among us, it will not and cannot be there for the best among us, are hardly competent to administer or oversee the administration of the death penalty in Guyana. If our sense of justice is so numb, so unfeeling, so lacking in attention span and moral and ethical conscientiousness, that we fail to recognize that the use of the death penalty in any society with that kind of unresolved issue amounts to an atrocity, then I am afraid Pandora’s Box has been opened much wider than some of us thought.

Editor, personally, I am unable to grasp and understand what kinds of principles we are operating under as a nation, that we can so causally be dismissive, or in ignorance of the unresolved crimes of torture, assassination and murder that remain like an open sore upon our national face, while at the same time proposing or arguing that the state, public officials and private members of the society in question are morally and ethically competent to be trusted with decisions involving the imposing of the death penalty on citizens. Justice cannot form in a society that is overladen with a recent history of such injustice. Granted, time and revelations will always allow us to revisit decisions that might be wrong or injudicious, and apply some measure of correction with respect to them. But that is not possible when the injustice is permanent, irreversible. There is not a single soul in the Guyana of today, that I am prepared to trust with the judicial weapon of a death penalty.


Yours faithfully,

Keith R Williams

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