Greg Mulholland MP writes: Suriname - another step forward for death penalty abolitionists

March 5, 2014 12:18 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

I have been a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Abolition of the Death Penalty since 2010. At the time it was excellently chaired by Alistair Carmichael, who then became the first-ever Chief Whip for the Liberal Democrats in Government. I remember speaking to Alistair and saying that I was keen to be Vice-Chair of the APPG and do my bit for a cause close to the heart of so many Liberal Democrats.

I wanted to do a trip during this Parliament where I could make a difference by helping campaigners around the world abolish the death penalty in their own countries. I was then invited to represent the APPG on a mid-February trip, to a place called Suriname, together with the former President of Switzerland, Ruth Dreifuss. Now I will confess I had barely heard of Suriname; in fact, I didn't even know what continent it was on!

Turns out it's a Caribbean nation on the northern tip of South America, and that Suriname's population is smaller than the city of Leeds. It has an interesting history; in short, we colonised it and established a fort but got kicked out by the Dutch. British interest in Suriname only ceded when we made a deal with the Dutch; they could have Suriname, but we would have New Amsterdam, today known as New York.

From London I flew to Schiphol in the Netherlands and then changed for my flight to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. Over two days I met Ministry of Justice officials, the Dutch and French Ambassadors and Surinamese MPs. The aim was to understand all of their perspectives, their concerns and to help negotiate in favour of abolitionists. Suriname's government are currently revising their criminal code and the hope is that the new version will not include the death penalty.

It is vital that the international community supports Surinamese MPs to help them abolish the death penalty- something the UK officially did only in 1998. Such a cruel punishment has no place in modern society, all the more given the possibility that innocent people may be executed. Thankfully this is a view now held by all three major parties. So while I had never heard of Suriname before, it will now always have a fondness in my heart for their sincere work to move forward as a nation. I will be watching closely the vote on the new criminal code, and I know all Liberal Democrats will be hoping it gets approved.

Greg Mulholland is Member of Parliament for Leeds North West