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Thursday 21 March 2019
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Letters to the Editor

Moving away from the death penalty

THE EDITOR: On December 6 I presented a paper on the death penalty in the English-speaking Caribbean at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington DC as chair of the Greater Caribbean for Life, an independent not-for-profit organisation working towards the abolition of the death penalty in our region. The president of the IACHR is Justice Margarette May Macaulay from Jamaica.

Joining me was Kevin Miguel Rivera Medina, president of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and Jessica Corredor Villamil, programme manager, WCADP.

Medina addressed the issue of the death penalty in the US and in particular the federal death penalty and its implications on the application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico. Villamil presented the WCADP’s campaign for the ratification of the international and regional protocols on the abolition of the death penalty.

Society has a right to protect itself from people who commit heinous crimes and offenders must be held accountable. However, we believe that non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect society from offenders. To date 142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Even though the Caribbean retentionist states have not carried out any execution for the last ten years, some have sentenced people to death during this decade. The ruling of the Privy Council in Pratt and Morgan v the AG of Jamaica (1993) and restrictions in a number of subsequent Privy Council rulings make it very difficult for these countries to implement the death penalty.

The last hangings in English-speaking Caribbean countries are: Grenada: 1978 – 40 years ago; Barbados: 1984; Belize: 1985; Dominica: 1986; Jamaica:1988; Antigua and Barbuda: 1991; St Vincent and the Grenadines: 1995; St Lucia: 1995; Guyana: 1997; TT: 1999; Bahamas: 2000, and St Kitts and Nevis: 2008.

Suriname is the last country in the region that has abolished the death penalty – on March 3, 2015. On June 27, in a landmark judgment, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that the mandatory death penalty as stated in section two of the Offences Against the Persons Act, Ch141, for people convicted of murder in Barbados is unconstitutional.

TT remains the only country in the Caribbean that imposes the mandatory death penalty.

Although our island states are small in the English-speaking Caribbean, the 13 retentionist countries in the Greater Caribbean basin comprise about 25 per cent of the total votes opposed to the call at the UN General Assembly’s seven sessions for countries to adopt a resolution to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to work towards abolition.

Most of the Caribbean retentionist states have consistently voted against the resolution and have signed the Note Verbale dissociating them from the moratorium.

However, on November 16, when the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly considered a draft resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, for the first time Dominica voted in favour of the moratorium resolution and Antigua and Barbuda abstained, rather than voting against it.

From November 12 to 14, a delegation of international experts on the death penalty met in Guyana to “advocate for the abolition of the use of capital punishment” there. Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister of Public Security, stated that the gallows will not be rebuilt in the prison – to replace the one that burnt last year. His personal view is that the death penalty “should be abolished totally.”

For every dollar spent on crime in TT this year, only 15 cents were spent on prevention (Marla Dukharan).

The IACHR commissioners committed to support our work in the region. Let us stop crime, not lives. (See CCSJ’s website for my presentation and for the recommendations GCL made to the IACHR.)

LEELA RAMDEEN

chair, CCSJ

director, CREDI

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