Guyana seeks popular opinion on death penalty and gay rights
Controversial laws going public as part of pledge to United Nations Human Rights Council.
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Wednesday April 11, 2012 – Guyana is engaging in a national debate on whether to eliminate its death penalty and change laws discriminating against homosexuals and transgender people.
Town hall-style meetings will be held across the country as part of a promise made to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The government plans to analyse public opinion before deciding whether it will submit any bills to revise current laws.
National Security Minister Clement Rohee has already launched the debate on hangings via televised panel discussions that allow for call-ins. The public will also be able to attend meetings on the issue later this month.
No one has been hanged in Guyana since 1997, even though the law remains on the books. Nearly 30 prisoners are on death row.
With respect to the question of homosexuality, Presidential Adviser Gail Teixeira told the media: “Government has no line or position on the gay rights issue. We will hold the consultations and if the recommendation is to change the laws, then that will be taken into consideration.”
Officials also plan to meet with leaders from Christian, Hindu and Islamic communities, who represent the country’s most prominent religions. Many religious leaders oppose legalisation of homosexuality.
The independent Society Against Sexual Orientation and Discrimination has said it will campaign to remove what it says are extremely discriminatory colonial-era laws.
Many Guyanese are nevertheless opposed to the discussions because they want the current laws to remain untouched.
Teixeira said the government will inform the United Nations in October about the results of the discussions even if they are still in progress.
“We are keeping our promise to consult with an open mind,” she said.