Two women among 23 convicts on death row
Attorney General looking into delays in executions - Gajraj
Stabroek News
February 17, 2002

The attorney general is looking into the legal questions hindering the execution of a number of convicted persons on death row, according to Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj.

There are 23 persons, including two women, on death row, some of whom have been there since 1990.

Four of them, Lawrence Chan, Ravindra Deo, Noel Thomas and Abdool Saleem Yasseen have obtained conservatory orders preventing their execution until their appeals have been determined.

Of those on death row, three have been there for ten or more years, four for eight or more years, ten for six or more years, two for five years, one for three years, one for two years and one for one year. Three of them lost their appeals in 1994; three in 1996, six in 1997, one in 1998, four in 1999 and three in 2000.

Gajraj told Stabroek News that some of the prisoners had cases pending before the Committee for the Prerogative of Mercy. Minister in the Ministry of Local Government, Clinton Collymore, is the current chair of this committee.

Traditionally, the mercy committee chair is the attorney general, but Collymore was appointed because then attorney general, Bernard DeSantos SC, while in private practice, had appeared for the defendants in the Yasseen and Thomas case. The present Attorney General, Doodnauth Singh SC, also appeared for Yasseen and Thomas.

The United Nations Committee on Human Rights (UNCHR) to which they had appealed had recommended the release of Thomas and Yasseen in 1998. Chan and Deo have petitions pending before the UNCHR.

The government rejected the recommendation in the case of Thomas and Yasseen. The government subsequently withdrew from and simultaneously re-subscribed with reservations to the Optional Protocol on Political and Civil Rights. The reservation prevents appeals by persons convicted of murder to the UNCHR.

One of the lawyers who represented them, Khemraj Ramjattan also thought the UNCHR recommendation extreme as their petition had sought to have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Thomas and Yasseen also have a number of appeals pending both brought on their behalf and by the State appealing a Full Court decision in their favour.

Singh told Stabroek News that the constitution provides for the mandatory execution of persons convicted for murder and legal sources have confirmed that there is nothing legally preventing the state from executing those convicted murders who have exhausted all the avenues open to them to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. They said that if the death warrants were read to them on Friday unless the prisoners could get access to their lawyers they could be executed on a Monday. In the cases of Chan and Deo, they were saved by a historic Sunday afternoon sitting of the court by Justice B.S. Roy who granted a stay of their execution.

Yasseen and Thomas, too, were saved a Monday morning execution after their lawyers persuaded Justice Winston Moore, who heard the arguments at his home to grant an ex parte order staying their execution.

Executions in Guyana are done by way of hanging.