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Time, energy wasted to resume hangings, say NGOs

Capital punishment will not stop or deter violent crime, only addressing the root causes will.

In a media release issued October 6 in commemoration of the 15th World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10 (last Tuesday), Amnesty International, Greater Caribbean for Life, RED Initiatives TT and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice urged the Government to “focus on human development and crime prevention rather than expend time and energy in seeking to resume hanging”.

The theme of this year’s World Day, Poverty and Justice: a deadly mix was chosen to “raise awareness about the reasons why people living in poverty are at a greater risk of being sentenced to death and executed”. According to Amnesty International, 16 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes in 1977. Today, two-thirds of all countries (141) are abolitionist in law or in practice.

Putting forward suggestions to stop crime, the four NGOs said “we should tackle the root causes of crime, for example, by improving employment;  getting rid of the drugs and guns in our land; eliminating violence in our schools and society at large; promoting restorative justice and rehabilitation/reintegration of offenders; speeding up prison reform and rehabilitation processes”.

The statement continued, “Let us address inadequacies in law enforcement and preventive measures by: strengthening our criminal justice system e.g. by: improving law enforcement agencies, detection and conviction rates, Forensic capabilities, and Court facilities which may serve to improve efficiency and processing of cases; dealing with inordinate delays in the system due e.g. to Court backlogs and high case load; developing and implementing effective witness protection programmes; and  strengthening accountability among law enforcement agencies.”

Focusing on poverty, they quoted a statement from the World Coalition against the Death Penalty that in the United States “the death penalty is inextricably linked to poverty. Social and economic inequalities affect access to justice for those who are sentenced to death for several reasons: defendants may lack resources (social and economic, but also political power) to defend themselves and will in some cases be discriminated against because of their social status… In the United States, in 2017, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, 95% of people on death row have disadvantaged economic backgrounds.”

They said the situation in T&T and the Caribbean “was not much different”, and encouraged regional governments to address the root causes of crime and adopt the recommendations contained in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2012 report, “Human development and the shift to better citizen security”.

The statement condemned the rise of violent crime in the Caribbean and expressed solidarity with victims. It reiterated, “We, however, reject the notion that capital punishment will act as a deterrent or foster respect for life in our communities. Let’s not let our emotions on this issue cloud our judgement as to the best way forward.”

Last Tuesday evening the four NGOs hosted a panel discussion on capital punishment and screened the film Songs of Redemption at Alliance Francaise, St Clair.