Leela Ramdeen,

Chair CCSJ & Director CREDI

“There is no justice in killing in the name of justice…” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu).

On Saturday 10 October, the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty will be dedicated to the right to effective legal representation for individuals who may face a death sentence. As the World Coalition against the Death Penalty states: “Without access to effective legal representation during arrest, detention, trial and post-trial, due process cannot be guaranteed. In a capital case, the consequences that can arise from a lack of effective legal representation can be nothing less than the difference between life and death.

“…the right to legal representation is enshrined in most constitutions and human rights instruments. Unfortunately, justice systems around the world repeatedly violate this right and fail to give those charged with a crime adequate legal representation.”

Today 142 countries are abolitionist in law or practice. The trend is moving away from the death penalty. However, 56 countries are still retentionist (including the English-speaking Caribbean countries).

I am Chair of the Greater Caribbean for Life (GCL), an independent not-for-profit civil society organisation devoted to working towards the abolition of the death penalty in our region. GCL believes 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. While we condemn the rise of violent crime in our region and express solidarity with victims, we reject the notion that capital punishment will act as a deterrent or foster respect for life in our communities.

The last hanging in the English-speaking Caribbean was on 19 Dec 2008 when 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 12 years, some continue to sentence persons to death. However, following the restrictions contained in rulings in a number of Privy Council (JCPC) cases, it is now very difficult for these countries to implement the death penalty.

I have been some positive movements in our region. Suriname is the last country in the region that has abolished the death penalty – on March 3, 2015.

On June 27, 2018, in a landmark judgment, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that the mandatory death penalty in Barbados as stated in s.2 OAPA, Ch 141, was unconstitutional and should be condemned. Laws, said the CCJ, should not be “calcified to reflect the colonial times.”

T&T’s Constitution has the same “savings clause” that was condemned in Barbados.

T&T remains the only country in our region that maintains the mandatory death penalty.

In 2018 Pope Francis changed the Catholic Church’s teaching. He said that the death penalty is inadmissible in ALL cases; it is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and that the Catholic church would work for its abolition worldwide.

On Sunday, October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on human fraternity and social friendship, was released to the world. It was signed on October 3 in Assisi, in front of the tomb of St Francis of Assisi. In it, Pope Francis reiterates his assertion that the death penalty is “inadmissible” and that the Catholic Church is committed to its abolition worldwide. He says: “The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognise the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe.”

Marla Dukharan, economist, states that for every dollar spent on crime in TT in 2018, 15 cents were spent on prevention. Let’s focus on e.g. crime prevention, strengthening family life and our institutions.