Several recommendations came out of a forum organized by the European Union and the International Commission against the Death Penalty held in Guyana last week. The one day event was held on Tuesday November 24, 2015.
The conference, which brought together twenty five participants from Europe and the Caribbean, included human rights activists, lawyers and interest groups. Several solutions were agreed toward the ultimate goal in the region which is to eliminate the death penalty altogether. There are many Caribbean islands, including Saint Lucia, that still have the death penalty on their law books even though there appears to be a moratorium on the measure.
However, governments in the Caribbean are being urged to “formalize the unofficial moratorium of the death penalty in those countries in the Caribbean region that retain capital punishment; and respect international and regional human rights law and standards relating to the death penalty.”
The death penalty, according to the forum, violates the right to life, which happens to be the most basic of all human rights. It also violates the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the death penalty undermines human dignity, which is inherent to every human being.
The conference held the view that the risk of executing innocent people exists in any justice system. There have been, and always will be, cases of executions of innocent people. No matter how developed a justice system, it will always remain susceptible to human failure. Unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible – one of the strong arguments put forward.
It was also held that the death penalty is often used in a disproportionate manner against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic, political and religious groups.
Many of the panelists concurred that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent to crime in countries where it is applied. It was often used as a knee-jerk reaction to crime, in some instances by politicians to feed public outcry.
To this end, public support for the death penalty, it was felt, does not necessarily mean that taking away the life of a human being by the state is right.
The final recommendation report coming out of the forum urges governments to:
– Formalize the unofficial moratorium of the death penalty in countries in the Caribbean region that retain capital punishment;
– Respect international and regional human rights law and standards relating to the death penalty;
– Engage in constructive dialogue with governments in the Caribbean region as they take steps towards eventual abolition of the death penalty;
– Strengthen the justice system structure, ensuring that it is sufficiently resourced, that it has the capacity of effectively investigating crimes, ensuring that victims are supported, ensuring adequate legal assistance
to vulnerable sections of society;
– Advancing human rights education as part of the curriculum for citizenship studies.
Attendees from Saint Lucia at the forum were STAR Editor Toni Nicholas and human rights lawyer Mary Francis.