Trinidad MPs urged to vote against hanging bill

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Friday February 18, 2011 – Human rights group, Amnesty International, has urged members of Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament to today vote against a constitutional amendment Bill which would allow executions to resume in the country. 

The Bill seeks to relax the five-year limit set by the British Privy Council to carry out executions after sentencing. Because it takes several years to exhaust the appeals process after a person is found guilty, and most death row prisoners have their sentences commuted to imprisonment, the government is trying to remove some hindrances to carrying out the death penalty.

Under the Bill, the twin-island republic’s president will set down the time frame for appeals and if that limit is exceeded, then authorities can decide whether the execution should take place or the sentence commuted. 

But Amnesty International says passing the Bill would allow the courts in Trinidad and Tobago to circumvent judicial rulings that enhanced human rights protection and make the Constitution inconsistent with human rights. Even though death sentences have continued to be passed in Trinidad and Tobago, no executions have been carried out since 1999. 

“What may seem a technical change in the Constitution is in fact a matter of life and death for many people,” said Chiara Liguori, researcher on Trinidad and Tobago at Amnesty International. 

“Hurrying executions or ignoring appeals already in progress violates defendants’ rights by denying them due process guaranteed under international law. The proposed Bill would allow people to be executed even if they were appealing against their sentence, which is their right,” Liguori continued. “We are extremely concerned that the new Bill would allow for someone to be executed within a short period after a sentence is passed, not allowing for proper appeals and that others could be kept on death row for years on end.”

The researcher contended that while authorities believe that carrying out the death penalty is a way to tackle rising numbers of murders and deter others from committing violent crime, it is not effective.

“Trinidad and Tobago has a real problem with murder and violent crimes, but experience has shown that facilitating executions is not the solution,” Liguori said.

“We urge Parliament not to accept the proposed Bill and instead tackle the root causes of violent crime and reform the police and justice systems.”

There are currently more than 40 people are currently on death row in Trinidad and Tobago.

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