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Double-speak by Ramesh on hangings
Posted: Tuesday, January 14, 2003

by Shelagh Simmons

We begin by correcting a misunderstanding on the part of Newsday correspondent Mr John Verity of Couva (Different strokes? Newsday, December 31, 2002). Far from objecting to the Chadee gang executions, as Mr Verity suggested, the so-called abolitionist Law Lords were responsible for sending them to the gallows by dismissing their final appeal. However, our main focus is recent comments by National Team Unity leader, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.

Mr Maharaj has taken the present Government to task for not implementing the death penalty. He accuses the current Prime Minister, Patrick Manning of using crime as a "political football" (NTU leader: Manning using crime as 'political football,' Newsday, January 7, 2003.)

This is a bit rich coming from the man who presided over multiple executions but was once quoted as saying "Putting the prisoners to work so they can contribute financially to victims' families would be more constructive than resorting to legal murder. The Government is committing murder under the guise of law. It is a retrograde step."

Dismissing capital punishment as a deterrent, he declared "Hanging must be an act of desperation by the Government in its inability to deal with the problem of crime." He also spoke of hanging's irrevocable nature, citing it as a reason why it should not be resumed.

Yet when in Government, he was one of those involved in the shameful decision to allow Russell Sankerali's execution to proceed rather than allow the courts to decide on taped evidence that came to light at the same minute. Mr Maharaj has also criticised the present Government for not supporting legislation when in Opposition that he had drafted in order to circumvent Privy Council rulings. (Ramesh: PNM too weak to fight crime, Newsday, January 1, 2002.)

Again, a bit rich coming from the man who told the 1999 Commonwealth Law Conference that even if governments disagreed with Privy Council rulings regarding capital punishment "they have an obligation to abide by them" while it remains the Final Court of Appeal. He went even further by pointing out that to do otherwise would constitute "a serious breach of the rule of law."

So in the game of political football, there is surely no more enthusiastic player than Mr Maharaj himself. But let us examine the facts surrounding the death penalty. Experience elsewhere in the world has shown that it does not reduce murder.

A properly resourced police force, fully equipped to do its job, which has the trust of the people and delivers high-profile, visible policing, is far more effective in preventing crime because it has an immediacy that any potential punishment does not.

That is partly why the high crime level in New York was reversed. Improved economic and social conditions are also an important contributory factor, because unless presented with alternatives there are always those who will use illegal means such as drugs and guns to make money.

The tragic situation in Jamaica is a good example, where many in the poverty-stricken inner city areas look to powerful, euphemistically named "community leaders" to provide for them where they perceive successive governments have not.

We fully acknowledge the serious crime situation and its impact. But it is the issues we have just mentioned, and not implementation of the death penalty, that must be urgently addressed if crime - particularly of a violent nature - is to be reduced.

Indeed, preoccupation with capital punishment inhibits the fight against crime by distracting attention away from measures that actually work.

It would therefore benefit everyone in Trinidad and Tobago if politicians of all parties abandoned the game of "political football," and instead united to play on the same side against what is, after all, a common foe.

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