CARIBBEAN-HUMAN RIGHTS: The Lull in Hangings Is Over

Carol Martindale

BRIDGETOWN, Feb 17 1995 (IPS) - This week’s hanging of three convicted killers in the eastern Caribbean country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was not good news for the region’s human rights lobby.

Anti-capital punishment activists have had their work cut out for them in recent months as governments, often with the full approval of the region’s peoples, have tried to wipe out unofficial moratoria on hangings, the preferred method of execution.

In January, the Jamaican government announced it would hang 26 year old Leroy Lamey, but postponed the execution days later following protests by the local human rights body, the Jamaica Council for Human Rights (JCHR).

Lamey is taking his case to the British Privy Council, the highest court for many Caribbean countries. Head of state Governor General Howard Cooke had set Feb. 13 as the date for papers on Lamey’s appeal to be filed with the Privy Council.

Cooke said no further stays of execution would be granted if Lamey failed to lodge his appeal by May 13.

More than 100 inmates are on death row in Jamaica but no execution has taken place since 1988.

Last July, the Trinidad government resumed hanging after a 15 year break when it executed Glen Ashby. Ashby’s death sparked a furore within human rights circles particularly as he was killed at the same time as the local Court of Appeal was hearing arguments for a stay of execution.

Monday’s execution of Douglas Hamlet, Franklin Thomas and David Collins sent anti-capital punishment activists into a tailspin, complaining about the secrecy in which the hangings were carried out.

“We in St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association and Caribbean Rights are appalled that the authorities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have organised the execution of three persons by hanging without making it public knowledge,” said Victor Cuffy, of the human rights umbrella body Caribbean Rights.

The hangings in the eastern Caribean island again threw the spotlight on capital punishment within the region and gave those against the death penalty within the Caribbean new opportunity to argue against its effectiveness as a deterrent to crime.

“We believe this is a naive and misinformed reasoning. Research has provided no evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other forms of punishment,” stated Amnesty International.

Capital punishment is standard practice among the 13 member states of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). Although there is a growing anti-hanging lobby the governments and peoples of the region overwhelmingly support capital punishment as a form of executing justice.

“St. Vincent is clearly on a good track. And I am happy to see that the legal impediment that we have suffered here in Trinidad and Tobago on the same issue have not been suffered by the government of St. Vincent in carrying out the will of the executive. I am happy to see that there is still punishment of death for murder,” said Trinidadian social scientist Dr Achmed Ghany.

Capital punishment enjoys support in the region because many of the region’s citizens believe it is morally wrong not to apply the old rule of an eye for an eye. Others fear that without the death penalty the rising crime wave in the region will overwhelm the societies.

Older folks look back on yesteryear and long for a return to the security of those times.

“In those days is only duppy (ghosts) you ‘fraid of,” says 89 year old Mirelda Kerr of the northern Caribbean island of Jamaica.

Caribbean residents feel that the unofficial suspension of hangings in many countries in the past is responsible for the rise in crime regionwide within the last two decades.

Jamaica for example saw 815 of its 2.5 million people killed violently last year, 127 of them by the security forces in what are considered justifiable homicide. Two hundred and fifty of those killed in 1994 died as a result of domestic related violence.

Six hundred and fifty-three murders were reported in the island in 1993 and of this figure 226 were domestic related.

In Trinidad and Tobago some 100 murders were committed in the first seven months of 1994, a situation which has the population of 1.2 million extremely worried.

Meanwhile, human rights activists say the governments of the region are not making accessible to convicts information on clemency procedures.

“Caribbean Rights … feels that governments that favour judicial execution should take steps to avoid the secrecy surrounding the clemency procedures and to ensure that all judicial executions are above board.

“Legitimate complaints by lawyers about lack of information to death row prisoners on the clemency procedures and the need for adequate time and proper notification of reading of the death warrant should not be ignored by a government that wishes to exercise its constitutional right to retain the death penalty.” said a spokesman for Caribbean Rights.

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