By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
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As Chair of the Greater Caribbean for Life, an independent not-for profit organisation devoted to working towards the abolition of the death penalty in our region, I was invited to present a paper on the death penalty in the English-speaking Caribbean at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington DC on December 6. The President of the IACHR is Justice Margarette May Macaulay, from Jamaica.
Joining me was Kevin Miguel Rivera Medina, President, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and Jessica Corredor Villamil, Programme Manager, WCADP.
Kevin addressed the issue of the death penalty in the United States, and in particular the federal death penalty and its implications on the application of the death penalty in Puerto Rico. He outlined several human rights issues in relation to the conditions of detention for the people on death row in the United States. Jessica presented the WCADP’s campaign for the ratification of the international and regional protocols on the abolition of the death penalty.
GCL & WCADP believe that society has a right to protect itself from persons 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 practise. The trend is moving away from the death penalty.
The last hanging in our region took place nearly ten years ago when, on December 19, 2008, Charles la Place was hanged in St Kitts and Nevis. Even though the Caribbean retentionist states have not carried out any execution for the last ten years, some have sentenced persons to death during this decade.
Since the ruling of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in ‘Pratt and Morgan v the Attorney General of Jamaica’ (1993) and following the restrictions contained in a number of rulings in subsequent Privy Council cases, it is now very difficult for these countries to implement the death penalty.
There have been some positive movements in our region. Suriname is the last country in the region to abolish the death penalty on March 3, 2015. On June 27, 2018, in a landmark judgement, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that the mandatory death penalty as stated in section two of the Offences Against the Persons Act (OAPA), Ch 141, for persons convicted of murder in Barbados is unconstitutional. Trinidad and Tobago 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 sessions in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018, 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, 2018, 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 resolution and Antigua & Barbuda abstained, rather than voting against it.
From November 12–14, 2018, a delegation of international experts on the death penalty met in Guyana to “advocate for the abolition of the use of capital punishment” there.
The prison in Georgetown was burnt in 2017. It is heartening to note that the Minister of Public Security, Hon Khemraj Ramjattan, stated that the gallows will not be rebuilt in the new prison. His personal view is that the death penalty “should be abolished totally”.
The last hangings in the English-speaking Caribbean are as follows:
Grenada: 1978, 40 years ago
Antigua and Barbuda: 1991
St Vincent and the Grenadines: 1995
St Lucia: 1995
Trinidad and Tobago: 1999
St Kitts & Nevis: 2008
Marla Dukharan, economist, states that for every dollar spent on crime in T&T this year, 15 cents were spent on prevention. Let’s focus on crime prevention and strengthen our institutions. See CCSJ’s website for my presentation and for the recommendations GCL made to the IACHR Commissioners.
The IACHR Commissioners re-affirmed their commitment to support our work in the region. Let us stop crime, not lives.