Presently, 58 of the world’s 195 countries retain the death penalty, among them Japan, Indonesia, India, the United States, and the territories of the English-speaking Caribbean. But having a law is not necessarily synonymous with carrying it out. It would seem the same countries, while talking the talk, are ever reluctant when it comes to offenders taking that final walk.
Two or three weeks ago Saint Lucia’s national security minister Hermangild Francis made headlines after he reminded reporters that the punishment for capital murder remained on the island’s statute books – unchanged. Moreover, that he had recently assured himself that our execution apparatus was in fine working condition.
The minister’s statement reignited the debate about the merits and demerits of the death penalty. Among the dissenters was one of Francis’ parliamentary brothers, Lenard Montoute, the minister responsible for equity, social justice and empowerment, who applauded the fact that it had been a very long time since the hangman was required to carry out his grisly function.
Several regular citizens expressed outrage at the security minister’s public statement, among them, local human rights advocate and lawyer Mary Francis. She maintained that the death penalty would not reduce Saint Lucia’s murder rate – a position she has long held.
She, along with lawyer Martinus Francois, had campaigned against the death penalty even in the aftermath of the so-called New Year’s Eve massacre that claimed the lives of 62-year-old Catholic priest Charles Gaillard and 73-year-old Sister Theresa Egan. Thirteen fellow worshippers at the Castries cathedral suffered severe burns and blunt force
trauma at the hands of Kim John and Francis Phillip, both finally condemned to death. They live on at public expense following a Privy Council demand that they both be retried. John and Phillip eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The rectitude and efficacy of capital punishment has been hotly debated from time immemorial. Opponents remonstrate that it is inhumane to take the life of another. Many contend (without local examples) that the innocent have on occasion been convicted. Still others insist that it costs taxpayers almost twice as much to try death penalty cases than non-death penalty cases. Supporters of the death penalty argue that those who are guilty of willfully, maliciously and callously taking the lives of others deserve to forfeit their own. They laud the jury system as next to infallible.
It should be pointed out that the debate on the death penalty is not simply an intellectual and emotional exercise; it is also a very practical one. Beyond the very real and obvious consequence of people being killed, there are also significant economic and political implications, for developing countries in particular. This is on account of the vehement opposition to the punishment by the vast majority of the world’s developed countries and humanitarian organisations.
Global pressure on developing countries is at an all-time high with an increasing number of countries moving away from the controversial measure. The pre-eminent intergovernmental organisation, the United Nations, has campaigned against the death penalty with various covenants and protocols since 1966.
Moreover, the world coalition against the death penalty, which is made up of various NGOs, bar associations, local bodies and unions, continually calls on countries around the world to abolish the death penalty and applies its considerable pressure to impel governments and international financing institutions not to provide financial support to countries which actualize the punitive measure.
You will have noticed, dear reader, that no opinions on the effectiveness and/or rectitude of the death penalty have been proffered; there are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. Instead, consider a sentiment that hopefully will serve as common ground for both sides of the contentious issue: the law must be obeyed. To even suggest it should be contravened is tantamount to courting anarchy.
We elect and empower a legislature to make, change and repeal the laws on our statute books. A judiciary is put in place to manage an adversarial legal system that comprises a judge and a jury of the accused individual’s peers. If the accused is deemed to be guilty as charged, and sentenced to death as demanded by law, then such sentence must be carried out.
If a country’s citizenry opposes the death penalty – or any other law – the legislature should be petitioned to repeal it. Consider the perpetual end-running around the law of the land by way of reluctance to carry it out. Protracting the appeals process is masturbatory. A wicked fraud.
Concerns about how the actualization of the death penalty will be viewed by countries on which we rely heavily for financial and technical assistance are appreciated. But it is difficult to question calls from the relatives of victims that their killers forfeit their right to life. Notwithstanding the validity of a victim’s expectation of justice, those who point to the numerous reasons that should give proponents of the death penalty pause, have every right to do so. These are not mutually exclusive sentiments.
However, the paradoxical obstinateness of keeping in place a statute with no intention of implementing it, for fear or reprisals from foreign entities, belies our assertion of sovereignty. I say to Minister Montoute: if you truly view the death penalty as politically counterintuitive and morally reprehensible, confer with your ministerial colleagues with a view to getting it repealed.
In the meantime, Minister Francis, should you need any assistance in bringing the gallows up to scratch – WD40, paint, lumber etc. – please let me know.
I also stand ready to play my small part in ensuring that our laws are enforced. All of them!