Oct 10, 2013 News
Caribbean countries that still have the death penalty are being advised to abolish or at least impose a moratorium on its application, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR.)
Ten countries are abolitionist in law: Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador (for ordinary crimes only), Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Meanwhile, two countries are considered abolitionist in practice: Grenada and Suriname.
However, 13 countries are retentionist: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. “The American Convention on Human Rights establishes provisions required to limit its application, with the aim of achieving its gradual disappearance,” the IACHR noted while pointing to a clear global trend toward abolishing the death penalty, based on recent developments in this matter at the United Nations.
The IACHR said, while capital punishment remains a pressing challenge, the region has seen significant changes, including reforms to restrict the types of crimes and circumstances in which the death penalty can be applied, as well as explicit or de facto moratoriums.
“Of particular importance have been advances in Caribbean countries related to the mandatory imposition of the death penalty, that is, when it is imposed after a criminal conviction without the opportunity for presenting or considering mitigating circumstances.
“The development of inter-American standards establishing that the death penalty contravenes the American Convention and the American Declaration, as well as interaction between the inter-American human rights bodies and the judicial bodies of the Commonwealth Caribbean, among other factors, have led to progress in the elimination of the mandatory death penalty in the majority of the countries of the Caribbean.”
The IACHR said it expects that additional progress would be made in this direction until mandatory imposition of this punishment is abolished in all the countries of the region.
But the IACHR said that it remains concerned about the “persistence of significant and worrisome challenges regarding the application of the death penalty” in the region.
It said that some member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) have executed individuals sentenced to death in defiance of precautionary measures granted by the Commission or provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the context of cases or petitions alleging serious violations to due process, among other violations.
“This undermines the effectiveness of the process before the Commission and causes irreparable harm to those individuals, in violation of States’ international human rights obligations.”
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the UN Human Rights Committee, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (traditional Court of Appeal for Commonwealth countries) have all taken positive steps to restrict and reduce the application of the death penalty in practice across the Caribbean.
Together, these bodies have successfully limited the amount of time a person could spend on death row, and have abolished the mandatory death penalty.
Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are the only two countries continuing to apply the mandatory death penalty for murder. Guyana abolished the mandatory death penalty for murder in 2010. The death penalty, however, remains applicable for certain categories of murder. (Rabindra Rooplall)
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