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Abolitionists care about victims too
Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2002

by Shelagh Simmons
Caribbean Justice

John Babb wonders where is the justice for victims in the recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) judgement which, among other things, ordered compensation to the family of executed Joey Ramiah (When killers are rewarded, Newsday, 14 July 2002).
He echoes Attorney General Glenda Morean, and it is a valid question. It is a question that is often asked of abolitionists in the context of the wider debate on the death penalty. It is asked as if our opposition to judicial killing by definition means we have a total disregard for those whose lives have been taken through violent crime, and the trauma suffered by their families. And it is asked as if our opposition to judicial killing means we actually condone heinous crimes.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Opposing capital punishment is not incompatible with caring for victims. We care very deeply about them. But we do not believe the way to demonstrate such sympathy is for the State to engage in violence too.

In the same way, the decisions of the IACHR should not be seen as denigrating the victims of crime. It is the job of its judges to look at the evidence presented to them, and on that evidence decide if violations of a Treaty voluntarily entered into by the State have taken place. If they find that breaches have occurred, they order some form of redress. In short, they apply the Convention as any court should apply the law - dispassionately.

That does not mean the needs of victims should be ignored. Indeed, their needs are of paramount importance. Unfortunately, governments often seem to see their responsibilities as ending with punishment. But we believe they also have a duty of care towards those whose lives have been shattered as a result of violent crime. We fully support any initiatives - for example, financial assistance and counselling - put in place to help them.

Ministers in Government at the time of the 1999 executions accused abolitionists of lacking concern for the Baboolal family and others who have lost loved ones to murder. They asked what we were doing to help them. We made it clear that as a voluntary organisation, we do not give financial assistance to anyone, including those convicted of murder. Governments are, however, in a position to help so it would be very sad if the rhetoric about caring for victims remained just that and did not translate into positive action.

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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