Greater Caribbean for Life NEWSLETTER

Greater Caribbean for Life
No. 2, July 2014
We greet you in this second issue of the Greater Caribbean for Life’s Quarterly Newsletter with
renewed hope and fresh inspiration following the 12th General Assembly of the World Coalition
Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) in which GCL participated. In a separate item in this
 Human Rights Shadow
Newsletter we have reported on WCADP’s General Assembly.
In the meanwhile GCL’s Executive has been active in laying the foundations for this important
regional organisation. We have conducted a number of Skype planning meetings. GCL’s
Executive also took the opportunity to hold a special meeting while members were in Puerto
Rico in June to attend the WCADP 12th General Assembly. We have thus been able to develop
strategies and programmes for the next three years.
We are happy to announce that GCL has obtained firm commitments for funding of our
programme, which will include a speaking tour of some Caribbean countries and training in antideath penalty advocacy. The tour will involve internationally renowned anti-death penalty
advocates .
WCADP General
Suriname to abolish
Death penalty
The inhumanity of
China: A Ray of Hope?
Quote of this issue
GCL in action
295 Palmas Inn Way,
Suite 134, Humacao,
Puerto Rico 00791,
Tel: 1(787)375-6787
15 Pinewood Avenue,
Ridgeview Heights,Tacarigua,
We are pleased to present GCL’s
presentation brochure in English and in
Spanish. Thanks to the generosity of the
printing company, Andes Industries, in
Trinidad, we have been able to produce several thousand copies and
have started distributing it to members for dissemination. Please let us
know if you need additional copies of this publication.
Trinidad, W.I.,
Tel: 1(868)299-8945
[email protected]
Greater Caribbean for Life
In January 2014, GCL established a partnership
GCL is also working with The Advocates for
with the Caribbean Institute for Human Rights
Human Rights (a US non-profit organization
and the International Human Rights Clinic of the
dedicated to promoting and protecting human
Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, with
rights) on the submission of a shadow report
the aim of jointly preparing Shadow Reports on
regarding the application of the International
the Death Penalty for submission to the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human
Racial Discrimination (“CERD”), with particular
Rights Council. The first report concerning
reference to the application of the Federal
Grenada was submitted on 15 June 2014.
Death Penalty Act by the United States in
The report reviews the country’s situation as
Puerto Rico.
regards capital punishment to conclude that
It is well known that one of the abuses of
“While no executions have been carried out for
human rights perpetrated by the death
decades, Grenada’s retention of the death
penalty in USA and the retentionist countries
of the Caribbean is its almost invariable and
reinstituting executions *…+ and the government
certainly disproportionate application to black
has expressly opposed any international intent
young men.
to abolish the death penalty”. The report urges
strong argument against the death penalty.
This constitutes yet another
Grenada to fulfil its international human rights
obligations. In September 2014 a similar report
will be submitted for Jamaica.
GCL prepared a programme of action for its first year, and submitted it to several potential donors
for funding. We are pleased to announce that two contributors, the Human Rights and Democracy
Programme of the UK Foreign Office and the Swedish Amnesty Fund, agreed to provide funding
for the implementation of our activities from June 2014 to February 2015. These include the
organisation of campaigning events to mark the next World Day against the death penalty across
the Caribbean, as well as efforts to raise GCL’s profile and mobilize supporters. It also allows for
the recruitment of a full time coordinator for the project period.
Renowned supporter:
As part of our campaigning
programme to mark World Day, Mr. Renny Cushing, founder
and Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human
Rights and Representative in the State of New Hampshire’s
legislature, accepted our invitation to speak at events we will
organise in the Bahamas, Jamaica and Antigua between October
4 and 8 of this year. Further information on this important
programme will be published as soon as the details become
WCADP Assembly - Round table on the role of Parliamentarians towards Abolition
Left to Right: Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan (Executive Director of Ensemble contre la peine de mort and Vice-President of WCADP);
Renny Cushing (New Hampshire representative and Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights); Dr Ruth
Wijdenbosch (Vice-Chair of the National Assembly of Suriname and member of the Executive Committee of Parliamentarians for
Global Action); and Hon. Pedro Pierluisi (Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Washington D.C.).
Greater Caribbean for Life
The WCADP 2014 General Assembly had two main focuses: taking stock on progress in the Caribbean
region, that had been at the heart of the 2013 abolitionist campaign; and looking at issues surrounding
mental health and the death penalty, which is the theme of the next World Day Against the Death
Penalty on October 10, 2014.
Caribbean Progress - The first plenary
which was dedicated to the
situation of capital punishment in the
Caribbean carried very heartening news.
Chief among them was the upcoming
abolition of the death penalty in Suriname.
prominent member of the organisation
Parliamentarians for Global Action, told the
meeting that a bill was currently under
review in Parliament to abolish the death
WCADP Assembly –
Plenary on the Greater Caribbean
Left to Right: Leela Ramden (Chair of
GCL); Carmelo Campos Cruz (Deputy
Chair of GCL); Hon. Pedro Pierluisi; Dr.
Ruth Wijdenbosch and Parvais Jabbar
(Executive Director of the Death Penalty Project).
Also encouraging,
penalty in Suriname’s Criminal Code. Other
encouraging news included the recent announcement by the Attorney-General of Barbados, Adriel
Brathwaite, that the country was preparing to abolish the mandatory nature of the death penalty;
and the assurance that Haiti, which has abolished the death penalty, would fast-track the ratification
of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at
the abolition of the death penalty.
Puerto Rico, host country for the meeting, offered a powerful
illustration of the strength of its anti-death penalty activism, across all strata of society.
While the Puerto Rican people abolished the death penalty in 1929 and banned it in its
Constitution in 1952, the country remains under the threat of capital punishment through
US federal law. Several prominent political figures including David Bernier, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State, Pedro Pierluisi,
Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C. and former Secretary of Justice, and Miguel Pereira Senator and former Police
Chief and Corrections Secretary, came to express their abolitionist convictions. Their testimonies echoed that of Juan
Melendez, a Puerto Rican who spent more than 17 years on death row in Florida for a crime he did not commit. He has been
a vocal abolitionist advocate since his exoneration in 2002.
The situation of capital punishment in the Greater
Caribbean region was described, recalling that
there were still 108 people on death row in eight English-speaking Caribbean countries, but also
recalling the progress made in the region, thanks to a series of judicial decisions that limited the
application of the death penalty. Parvais Jabbar of the London Death Penalty Project welcomed these
developments ̶ especially the rulings against any execution after a long delay and imposing greater
transparency on clemency and pardon procedures, and the introduction of principles in sentencing.
He pointed out that the judiciary could not outlaw capital punishment completely in most Englishspeaking Caribbean countries so that progress through the courts had reached its limits because
abolishing the death penalty was, at the end of the day, a political issue.
Greater Caribbean for Life
In this context, the renewed efforts by
Caribbean abolitionists to better coordinate their work
and to support each other through a common network is all the more important. This session on the
Caribbean provided an opportunity for Leela Ramdeen, Chair of GCL to introduce the Greater
Caribbean for Life to the abolitionist community, explaining how the
organisation had come into existence, describing its initial achievements
and outlining its future plan of action.
Throughout the meeting, GCL representatives have been able to
exchange ideas and experiences with fellow abolitionists from
several countries, to hear vibrant testimonies, to identify
potential resources or partners, and to learn about campaigning
techniques and about issues related to the death penalty,
particularly regarding mental health and the death penalty.
Mental health in relation to the death penalty was the
second focus of the meeting. Experts and practitioners
explained that people with mental health issues were
disproportionately and wrongly affected by the death
penalty, both before and after sentencing. According to the
expert psychologists, some of the key aggravating factors
were the fact that intellectual disabilities are difficult to
diagnose, and qualified experts are often difficulty to find.
In the Caribbean, it was noted that many defendants in capital cases failed to raise issues of mental
health in the courts, because they had not been diagnosed or could not afford forensic experts; and
that in some countries, experts were scarce or were employed by the State, which made them less
independent. It was suggested that such cases should be appealed on the grounds of new evidence,
which is possible in many Caribbean jurisdictions, to create jurisprudence.
For more details see WCADP articles on the General Assembly, its agenda and its Caribbean focus.
Abolition in the Greater Caribbean
Suriname is about to become the first Caribbean country to make the choice of abolition in the
Twenty-First century. The country was considered “abolitionist in practice” as the last judicial
execution took place in 1927.
In October 2013, a parliamentary delegation from Suriname
participated in a panel discussion involving parliamentarians from 14
different countries. It was organized by the International Commission
against the Death penalty and the Inter Parliamentary Union in
Geneva. During the discussion, Suriname made a commitment that it
would soon abolish the death penalty from its Penal Code. October 10,
2014 was the target date set.
Greater Caribbean for Life
In February 2014, a delegation from the International Commission against the Death Penalty visited
Suriname and further encouraged the government of Suriname and the National Assembly to adopt
a Criminal Code with no provision for the death penalty. The delegation also recommended the
government of Suriname to vote in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution on the global
moratorium of the death penalty during the next vote in late 2014.
The draft of the revised Criminal Code in which the death penalty has been
removed, was first considered by the Surinamese State Council (Staatsraad),
after which it was presented by the President to The National Assembly in
May 2014. The parliament, where the move for abolition benefits from a
consensual support across party lines, immediately established a Special
Committee to prepare the bill’s discussions. The committee is currently
holding hearings with relevant organizations before presenting its findings to the Plenary.
The latest developments were reported at the 12th General Assembly of the World Coalition by Dr.
Ruth Wijdenbosch, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Suriname and Member of the
Executive Committee of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA). Dr. Wijdenbosch explained that
while parliamentarians were committed to ending capital punishment, they also considered that the
pain of relatives who have lost a family member in the hands of criminals was to be considered very
seriously, and therefore other amendments to the Penal code were also being considered, such as
provisions “to increase the sentences for severe crimes, like murder, from 15 to 20 years and to
amend the maximum time for life sentences from 20 to 30 years”.
Beyond the Caribbean
GCL condemns the death penalty not only for its inhumanity but for its
potential cruelty. In this and subsequent issues we wish briefly to examine
the various methods of state executions. In this year three executions in the
USA have highlighted this factor.
In January, Michael Lee Wilson, an
Oklahoma condemned man actually was heard to say as he suffered death: “I feel my whole body
burning”. In the same month Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate, suffered for 26 minutes after being
injected with a lethal injection during which he repeatedly gasped with his month opening and
closing. On 22 July Joseph Wood, another condemned man in Arizona, was “gasping and snorting”
for 117 minutes, nearly 2 hours, after the lethal injection was administered.
These developments led Governor Jay Dixon of Missouri to stay the execution of serial killer, Joseph
Paul Franklin until a new drug can be found. US States are now seeking to find other drugs for the
lethal injection, but the efforts meet with principled objection from countries which will not allow
the supply of drugs for this purpose. The authorities have now to balance the morality and
economics of obtaining the drugs from underground sources and the scientific effectiveness of the
concoctions. Thus, in the determination to carry out executions, the Authorities are applying
combinations of drugs, from unknown sources without any assurances as to what tests have been
carried out or guarantee that their application will not amount to torture, inhumane treatment and
cruel and unusual punishment.
Greater Caribbean for Life
China has the reputation of being the leading State in the number of death penalties carried out
yearly. In June of this year China’s Supreme People’s Court overturned the death sentence on a
woman who brutally killed and dismembered her husband. However, between 2007 and 2011 the
annual number of executions in China decreased by 50%. The popularity of the death penalty has
waned in China. Frequently executions in China provoke public anger. Surveys have shown that only
58% of the population support the death penalty, 60% believe that innocent people might be
wrongfully convicted and 69% believe that poor offenders are more likely to be put to death than
wealthy ones. Even in China there is a ray of hope.
See The New York Times, July 8, 2014 for an enlightening article by Mara Hvistendahl.
10 October 2014 is approaching...
Dear GCL Members and Caribbean abolitionists,
On 10 October we will once again be celebrating
the World Day Against the Death Penalty.
We strongly encourage you to organise an event
in your country to mark that date.
The WCADP has compiled materials to help
...and the Greater Caribbean for Life is also
committed to provide all the support possible
to ensure that 10 October is a day of
campaigning throughout the Greater
Caribbean. Please notify us of any event you
will be organizing.
Let’s prepare!
295 Palmas Inn Way, Suite 134, Humacao, Puerto Rico 00791, Tel: 1(787)375-6787
15 Pinewood Avenue, Ridgeview Heights,Tacarigua, Trinidad, W.I., Tel: 1(868)299-8945
[email protected]