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Abolitionists hold conference in Spain
Only for the most extreme cases. That’s part of Government’s continuing stance on the death penalty, which remains on T&T law books and which currently applies to 30 persons on Death Row—including one female. Speaking on the eve of this week’s international Anti-Death Penalty Congress in Spain, where the global abolitionist movement will caucus, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said, “This is an emotional political issue with powerful arguments on both sides. “There may be doubt whether it is a potent and effective deterrent, but it is difficult to argue with victims who rest their case on the principle of retribution. In the final analysis, it is a matter that should be decided by the people.”
Global focus will fall on the issue of the death penalty in the Caribbean when the fifth annual Anti-Death Penalty Congress takes place in Madrid, Spain, from tomorrow to Saturday. The event has been organised annually since 2001 by the Ensemble Contre la Peine du Mort (Together Against the Death Penalty) and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. It is being held this year on invitation of the Spanish government with support from the French, Norwegian and Swiss governments. The summit, expected to be attended by 1,500 people from 90 countries, unites members of international civil society, politicians and legal experts to heighten the global lobby for the abolition of the death penalty.
Part of the gathering involves 200 participants from countries such as T&T and others regionally,, which still retain the death penalty. Amnesty International estimates 13 of the 58 states that retain the death penalty are in the English-speaking Caribbean. Apart from special focus on the Arab and African regions in this year’s programme, the conference’s first day activities feature a session on the death penalty in the Caribbean region. Feature speakers include T&T’s Leela Ramdeen, who will present a paper representing the Greater Caribbean for Life group. This involves seven people from T&T, Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and St Vincent & the Grenadines.
While deeply sympathising with the victims of violent crime, the group doesn’t believe the death penalty makes societies safer. Members, however, believe abolition of the death penalty in T&T and the Caribbean will require a multi-faceted approach that addresses issues including improving the criminal justice and administration of justice systems, tackling crime and violence, addressing victims’ rights, enhancing education systems 1` and changing the minds of people. As for T&T’s positon on the death penalty issue, Ramlogan told the T&T Guardian: “There is no doubt the death penalty can be a deterrent, as it has an effect on the psyche of the criminal, but I'm aware that there's a raging academic debate on this issue. “Victims and supporters argue it has nothing to do with the concept of deterrence, because it has to do with retribution and the enforcement of the law. Abolitionists argue that it is cruel and inhumane, is not an effective deterrent and ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves the whole world blind.”
Ramlogan added, “As the duly-elected government, we’re sworn to uphold and enforce the laws of this land and therefore duty bound to facilitate and advance its implementation as long as it remains on the books.” On the status of the Government’s moves to try and implement the law regarding hangings following its 2012 plan for legislation to categorise murders, Ramlogan said: “The Government did introduce a bill to categorise murders and introduce some measure of flexibility and discretion so that the death penalty would not be automatically imposed in every case. We were influenced in this regard by the American jurisprudence which distinguishes murders according to the particular facts and circumstances in which the murder occurred (hence, for example, murder in the first, second and third degree). “Unfortunately, this bill was not passed because the Opposition voted against it. The Government, however, has no difficulty with the proposition that the death penalty should be discretionary. We are, however, equally committed and duty-bound to implement the law as it presently stands.”
On whether the matter would be taken further, the AG said soon after the debate, he wrote Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley several letters “in the hope that we can have some meaningful dialogue on this issue.” “Unfortunately, there was no response. The Opposition has managed to maintain the contradictory position that it supports the death penalty but cannot support or propose any legislation to facilitate its implementation,” Ramlogan said. Since some quarters believe T&T, like other regional states, may soon have to take the death penalty off its books, where does T&T stand in this scenario? Ramlogan said, “I believe the overwhelming majority of the population favours the retention of the death penalty. The murder rate is high and there are many who believe in the principles of retention and deterrence. “The Government is in favour of categorising murders so that the death penalty can be reserved for the most extreme cases with the most brutal of heinous murders. The Opposition objected to this and we were forced to remove it from the proposed amendment to the Constitution. This, however, remains the Government’s position.”
Considering the 37 per cent reduction in serious crime (from 2012 to 2013 figures), asked whether Government still sees the death penalty as absolutely necessary, Ramlogan said, “The death penalty does not apply to most serious crimes. It does, however, apply to murder and the murder rate is still high even though it is on the decline.” With some polls on T&T showing a large part of the population favouring hanging, the AG was asked whether this can be expected before the end of the term. “We cannot implement the death penalty without an amendment to the Constitution. This requires a special majority in Parliament for which Opposition support is necessary,” he said. “In Jamaica the opposition recently joined forces with the government to vote to amend the Jamaica constitution to facilitate the implementation of the death penalty. We can only live in hope.” With the situation in limbo, the AG added, “The death penalty, part of our law, is what we inherited from our colonial masters. The Privy Council has ruled this is a valid part of T&T’s binding laws. “Both the Opposition and People's Partnership have publicly declared their commitment to the implementation of the death penalty in response to the overwhelming public support and demand for it.” The AG added, “There is no universal consensus on the morality or correctness of the death penalty. It forms part of the laws and is in fact implemented in many countries, including certain states in the USA, Singapore and China.”
Opposition PNM says....
Opposition PNM deputy leader Marlene McDonald said the party stands by its position in favour of the death penalty, but also maintains its position against Government’s recent legislation on it. PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds added, “The death penalty issue is to me more of an intellectual exercise more than emotional.” He said matters were often overturned at Privy Council level since that jurisdiction had abolished the death penalty. “They engage arguments in a rigorous exercise so it becomes a matter of their legal wit against that of Caribbean attorneys,” he added.
“So we have to be very intellectual in our approach on this. When the Government came with the last piece of legislation we examined it thoroughly and found where the Privy Council would have walked right over the stipulations of the bill.” Hinds added, “We must now await what new measures Government will present, then see whether that can meet Privy Council resistance.”
THE MADRID MANDATE
CONGRESS TOPICS: include abolition and alternative sentences in the world, juveniles and the death penalty in the world, drug trafficking and the death penalty, legal representation in capital cases globally, the Middle East, Iran, African and Asian regions and the death penalty, terrorism and abolition, the state of abolition in the USA, Europe and future strategies, death penalty and torture, abolitionist strategies.
POLITICAL FIGURES EXPECTED: President of Benin, Foreign Affairs Ministers of Spain, France, Swiss Confederation, Norway, Mauritania, deputy prime ministers of Luxembourg and Belgium, UN high commissioner for human rights, the general secretary of the Council of Europe, president of the Commission of Human Rights of the Iraq Parliament, president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, and the former French Justice minister, who authored the French law that abolished France’s death penalty.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE LAUREATES: Northern Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire, former Iranian judge and women’s/human rights activist, Shirin Ebadi, former East Timor president Jose Ramos Horta.
TESTIMONIES FROM: former death row prisoners of Iran, Spain, Morocco, Uganda, Taiwan, parents, spouses of death row prisoners and the former death row warden of the US state of Virginia.