The death penalty, discrimination against lesbians and gays, excessive use of force by police officers and backlogs in the courts are some of the human rights concerns listed in the July 31 published report on T&T submitted by Amnesty International to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, October 2011.
The report said although there had been no executions since 1999, death sentences continued to be handed down by the courts. It said at the end of 2010 at least 40 prisoners were on death row. "Mandatory death sentences violate international standards on fair trials, individualised sentencing is required to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and the arbitrary deprivation of life," the report stated.
In January, the Government submitted a bill for approval by Parliament to reform the Constitution for the implementation of the death penalty. In her statement on January 14 on the bill, Prime Minister Kamla-Persad Bissessar said it was "a crucial step to overcoming the hindrances to the implementation of the death penalty arising from the Privy Council's jurisprudence and, as a consequence, as a necessary measure to fight crime and in particular, to respond to the high number of murders that each year are committed in Trinidad and Tobago." The bill was defeated on February 28. Amnesty International, however, expressed concern that the evident contradiction with international human rights law and standards had not been discussed in the parliamentary debate.
Amnesty International called on the Government to immediately establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty and to commute without delay, all death sentences to terms of imprisonment. Among its other recommendation on the death penalty, it said to refrain from proposing and adopting legislative and constitutional amendments which could result in the resumption of executions in violation of international human rights and standards.
Repeal laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians
On the issue of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the report called for all provisions that criminalise same-sex relations, including the Sexual Offences Act to be repealed. It said provisions in the Immigration Act that were discriminatory against such people should also be repealed.
It listed Sections 13 and 16 of the Act which criminalised "buggery" which is punishable with 25 years' imprisonment when committed by one adult on another and same-sex intercourse as "serious indecency" which is punishable with five years' imprisonment when committed by same-sex partners over the age of 16.
It also listed Paragraph 8 (1) of the Immigration Act which prohibits prostitutes, homosexuals or people living on the earnings of such; or people reasonably suspected as coming to T&T for these and other immoral purposes. The report said: "Although these provisions are not enforced, they contribute to creating a discriminatory environment against lesbian, gay and transgender persons."
Excessive use of force by police
The report said excessive use of force by members of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) was widespread.
It said at least 79 people were killed in 2008 and 2009. "In most cases, witness testimonies and other evidence suggested the killings might have been unlawful," despite police officers claiming they acted in self-defence, the report stated. It listed the case of Tristan Cobbler who was allegedly shot by police in January last year. Cobbler called his mother, saying he had been shot in the leg by police and was hiding in a bushy area in Mentor Alley, Laventille. His mother found him dead where he said he was hiding. His autopsy revealed that he died from multiple gunshot wounds to the leg, neck, back and chest. The report said: "Mechanisms to hold members of the Police Service accountable for alleged abuses are weak." It recommended that the Government ensured all complaints of human rights violations by security forces be subjected to immediate, thorough and independent investigation and that those found responsible should be brought to trial in an expeditious manner.
The report said while there was an amendment to the Police Complaints Authority Act in 2007, enabling it to investigate criminal offences involving police officers, corruption and misconduct, the laws were still ambiguous about certain powers. "The authority's work was also hampered by it having no director for almost three years until December 2010. "A backlog of 1,000 complaints was reported in February 2011," the report stated.
To address this problem, Amnesty International recommended that the Government amend the Act to ensure the Police Complaints Authority had the necessary powers to investigate all alleged misconduct and allegations of human rights violations by members of the police force, including killings and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. It also recommended that members of the TTPS be adequately trained in the appropriate use of force and firearms in accordance with international standards.
"The professional conduct of the Police Service has been scrutinised on a number of occasions, especially in the light of high incidence of violent crime and the failure to bring police officers responsible for abuses to justice," the report said. It noted the "disturbingly" high number of disciplinary charges against officers, a need to combat the increased levels of indiscipline with the service and "a serious lack of accountability from top to bottom." The report blamed the shortages of judges and lawyers for the heavy backlogs in the courts and lengthy pre-trial detentions. It called on the Government to increase the number of state attorneys; provide adequate protection to state witnesses in criminal trials and take the necessary measures to reduce court backlogs, expedite trials and reduce the length of pre-trial detentions in keeping with international standards for fair trial.
Justice for female victims unsatisfactory
Amnesty International said access to justice for female victims of sexual offences was unsatisfactory.
In 2009, the conviction rate for such offences was three per cent. The report said the reason for the low rate included reluctance on the part of victims to attend court for fear of victimisation; delays in the investigation; lack of confidence in the judicial system; and a lack of support services. It said the Government had to increase the number of shelters for female victims, ensure satisfactory investigation and prosecution of cases of gender-based violence and train police officers to deal with complaints of domestic violence. The report said: "Women's organisations believe that sexual and domestic crimes go under-reported because the police are not adequately trained in how to deal with cases of violence against women." It listed police statistics showing 632 rapes in 2010. The report said gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls, including sexual violence were widespread.