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Ramesh, political point-scoring and the death penalty
Posted: Saturday, July 13, 2002

by Shelagh Simmons
Caribbean Justice

Guardian columnist Lennox Grant suggests that in beating Attorney General Glenda Morean to a response on the recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgement, ex-AG Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj has managed to score some valuable political points (Attorney General to attorney-at-large - Former AG bids to be unofficial opposition leader, Trinidad Guardian, 12 July 2002).
AG Morean quite rightly reserved comment until she had studied the full judgement.

Mr Maharaj, on the other hand, had no hesitation is immediately declaring that capital punishment is not against international law, completely missing the point that at issue was not the death penalty per se but the mandatory death penalty - an entirely different matter.

In fact, the mandatory death sentence is against international law on two counts - it constitutes arbitrary deprivation of life and it constitutes inhuman punishment.

He also declared the State is not bound by the ruling since it is no longer a party to the American Convention on Human Rights and no longer accepts the jurisdiction of the Court. Well, as the architect of T&T’s sorry withdrawal from a Treaty protecting the rights of every citizen, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

And since the appeals were lodged before T&T withdrew from the Treaty and jurisdiction of the Court, the State does have a duty to comply. As Judge Antonio Augusto Cancado Trindade noted in his Concurring Opinion, the fact that the State is no longer a party to the Convention cannot be invoked to evade compliance. He pointed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council’s (JCPC) 1999 Thomas and Hilaire judgement which held that while T&T was entitled to restrict future rights by withdrawing from the Treaty, the Constitution prevented the Government from doing so "retrospectively so as to affect existing applications".

So which is better - a speedy response or a correct one?

As to the recent staying of executions in Barbados - likened by Mr Grant to "T&T in the pre-Ramesh days" - all 4 cases have not yet been considered by the final court of appeal. If the hangings had taken place, they would have been extra-judicial killings. Readers may recall a similar shameful episode in T&T under the previous PNM administration, when Glen Ashby was hanged while his case was still being considered by the JCPC. Mr Maharaj condemned the Ashby killing, so though buoyed by the triumph of his 1999 hang-fest, surely even he would not have gone down that route.

For the record, the Barbados Government was fully aware of the outstanding appeals. It must have known warrants should not have been issued and that stays of execution would be granted. So the inescapable conclusion is that it was a public relations gimmick designed to show its ‘tough on crime’ credentials.

The most distasteful part of the whole charade was the way in which the media spotlight was focused full-beam on the victims’ families and the families of those reportedly about to go to the gallows, exploiting their private grief in a very public way. Sadly, such cynical use of the death penalty is not confined to Barbados.

Ramesh right and wrong

IACHR Death Penalty ruling welcomed

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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