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IACHR Death Penalty ruling welcomed
Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2002

by Shelagh Simmons
Caribbean Justice

Caribbean Justice welcomes the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) order that Trinidad and Tobago must update its law on the death penalty to comply with international norms. The Court was ruling in a case involving 32 Death Row prisoners.

While we unreservedly oppose capital punishment in all circumstances, this ruling is important in limiting its application and we hope it will be a first step towards total abolition.

In a judgement delivered on 21 June 2002, the Court found a number of violations of the American Convention on Human Rights. These included the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life; the right to a fair trial; the right to be tried within a reasonable time; the right to effective recourse where breaches of human rights are alleged; the right to humane treatment and the right to apply for amnesty, pardon or commutation.

Trinidad and Tobago has been ordered to amend its law - which has not been updated since 1925 - under which the death penalty is mandatory and must be imposed regardless of the circumstances of the offence or any mitigating factors.

The IACHRís ruling follows last yearís decision of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal outlawing the mandatory death sentence, which was upheld earlier this year by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It is in line with international standards for the application of capital punishment.

Trinidad and Tobago has also been ordered to bring its prison conditions - which have frequently been the subject of criticism by those ranging from human rights tribunals, activists and courts to the US State Department - up to international standards.

The decisions of the Courtís judges, including Oliver Jackman of Barbados, were unanimous.

Caribbean Justice acknowledges the leading role Trinidad and Tobago has played in the establishment of the International Criminal Court and hopes that the IACHRís rulings will be implemented in the same spirit of willingness and co-operation.

And while it is deeply regrettable that the State has since withdrawn from the American Convention on Human Rights, these cases were lodged at a time when Trinidad and Tobago was a party to the treaty and had agreed to be bound by decisions of the Court. It therefore has a moral obligation - indeed, a duty under international law - to comply.

Caribbean Justice is a voluntary organisation which campaigns for an end to the death penalty in the English-speaking Caribbean. Its patrons are Tony Benn, Sir Ludovic Kennedy and Benjamin Zephaniah.

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