UA 265/91 - Grenada: death penalty: Callistus Bernard, Bernard Coard, Leon Cornwall, Lester Redhead, Ewart Layne
FOR THE URGENT ATTENTION OF UA COORDINATORS AND CAMPAIGN COORDINATORS IN
YOUR MOST URGENT ATTENTION TO THIS ACTION IS APPRECIATED.
(UA Coordinators/Home Government Lobbyists/EC contact persons in Australia,
Canada (ES), FRG, Netherlands, UK, US sections please note that this UA replaces
TLX 46/91 dated 16 July 1991 and subsequent follow-ups dated 26 & 29 July 1991.
These sections are also encouraged to take immediate action as outlined below).
EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 32/01/91
UA 265/91 Death Penalty 1 August 1991
GRENADA: Callistus BERNARD
Amnesty International received reports that the above five prisoners were
scheduled to be executed earlier this week. The five are among fourteen former
members of the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) sentenced to death in
1986 for the murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others in 1983. Appeals
in the case of all fourteen were dismissed on 10 July 1991.
It has since been reported that temporary stays of execution have been
granted in the above cases, pending the hearing of a last-minute motion filed
by the prisoners' lawyers. The motion is due to be heard by the Grenada Court
of Appeal on 7 August 1991, and it seeks a further stay of execution on a number
of grounds. However, if the motion is unsuccessful, executions could still
be scheduled after that date. It is feared that the government may wish to
execute the above prisoners before returning Grenada to the East Caribbean
Supreme Court (ECSC) system which would restore the right of appeal to the
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London (see below). The
government was reportedly intending to return to this system on 1 August 1991
but may now delay this until a final disposition of the above case. Public
opinion in Grenada is said to be strongly in favour of hanging the above five.
Nine other defendants in the same case remain on death row. Earlier reports
that their death sentences had been commuted appear to be unfounded. These
prisoners include Bernard Coard's wife, Phyllis Coard, also a former PRG
minister. There are at least seven other prisoners under sentence of death
in Grenada. The last execution was carried out in 1978.
Two Amnesty International representatives are currently in Grenada to
seek meetings with government representatives to convey the organization's
concerns about the possible resumption of executions.
The defendants in the above case were convicted of the murder of PRG Prime
Minister Maurice Bishop and ten others at the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA)
headquarters at Fort Rupert on 19 October 1983. The killings had taken place
following a power-sharing dispute between opposing factions within the Central
Committee of the PRG, during which Maurice Bishop was placed under house arrest.
On 19 October 1983, Maurice Bishop was freed by several thousand supporters
and taken to Fort Rupert. He and the others were reportedly shot by firing
squad after the army regained control of the Fort. A Revolutionary Military
Council (RCM) briefly assumed control of the government. This was overthrown
after troops from the United States, assisted by forces from other Caribbean
countries, invaded Grenada on 15 October 1983.
Those suspected of involvement in the killings, including the above
defendants, were detained for several months before charges were brought in
February and March 1984. The trial began in April 1986 after several
adjournments, and ended in December 1986. 10 of the 14 sentenced to death for
murder were members of the Central Committee of the PRG who had not been present
when the killings took place but were found guilty of having ordered or
instigated them. They include Bernard Coard, deputy leader of the PRG, Leon
Cornwall, former Ambassador to Cuba, and Ewart Layne, a Lieutenant Colonel
in the PRA. The evidence against them was mainly circumstantial, consisting
of witness testimony about the actions of the Central Committee before and
immediately after the events of 19 October 1983. The others, including Callistus
Bernard and Lester Redhead, were found guilty of having carried out or been
present during the killings. A key prosecution witness, Fabien Gabriel, had
originally been charged with murder but was granted a conditional pardon in
return for testifying for the state. Appeals began in May 1988 and ended in
September 1990, with the Grenada Court of Appeal reserving judgment until its
decision dismissing the appeals given in July 1991.
The defendants had refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the Grenada
Supreme Court system under which they were tried. On this ground they had
dismissed their defence counsel at the start of the trial and refused to
participate in the proceedings, except to make unsworn statements to the court.
Their lawyers have argued that the reinstatement of the 1974 Constitution in
late 1983 required a return to the East Caribbean judicial system (ECSC) which
provided, among other things, the right of final appeal to the JCPC in London.
The appeals court ruled in 1986 that the Constitution required Grenada's
eventual return to this system but upheld the temporary legitimacy of the Grenada
Supreme Court for the purposes of the above trial.
In July 1991, the Grenada parliament passed legislation providing for
a return to the ECSC, which will again provide right of appeal to the JCPC.
This has not yet been signed into effect by the Governor General, although
he could do so at any time. The legislation reportedly contains a clause
excluding defendants whose cases have already become final from lodging further
appeals under the ECSC, including appeals to the JCPC. This clause would appear
to exclude the defendants in the above case from benefiting from a possible
appeal to the JCPC. Other defendants in Grenada, including other condemned
inmates on death row, will eventually have recourse to this avenue of appeal.
Amnesty International has sent observers to various stages of the trial
and appeal in the above cases.
Amnesty International's concerns:
Amnesty International has appealed to the Grenadian Government to commute
the above death sentences on humanitarian grounds. The organization said that
the resumption of executions in Grenada after 13 years would be a retrograde
step for human rights and that such a move would be contrary to the spirit
of international human rights standards which encourage governments to restrict
progressively their use of the death penalty with a view to its ultimate
Amnesty International has also raised the following concerns about the
circumstances of the trial of the above defendants which the organization said
provided strong additional grounds for clemency:
- Amnesty International believes that it would be unjust to execute prisoners
sentenced under the temporary Grenada Supreme Court system who are denied
recourse to an avenue of appeal which will shortly be available to other
defendants in Grenada. The delay of re-entry into the ECSC system until final
disposition of the present case gives rise to further concern that moves to
execute the above prisoners may be taken for reasons of expediency rather than
in the interests of justice.
- There is also evidence suggesting bias on the part of the trial jury against
the defendants, which Amnesty International believes may have fundamentally
undermined their right to a fair trial. Members of the panel from whom the
trial jurors were selected showed hostility toward the defendants by, among
other things, shouting and jeering when the defendants announced their intention
to dismiss their defence counsel before the trial began on 11 April 1986. Amnesty
International's observer who attended part of the proceedings was informed
by the defendants' lawyers that members of the jury panel had also made threats
and hostile remarks toward them and the defendants on other occasions.
- Amnesty International has also expressed concern about the circumstances
in which a number of the above defendants were held following their arrest
in October and November 1983, and the treatment leading to the signing of
confessions in some cases. Several of the above defendants were initially
arrested by United States troops and held incommunicado, blindfolded and
manacled in oppressive conditions aboard US aircraft carriers before being
transferred to Richmond Hill Prison where they continued to be denied access
to legal counsel for several weeks. During this period, a number of the
defendants, including Ewart Layne and Lester Redhead, signed statements which
were used in evidence against them at their trial. They had not had access
to lawyers before the statements were taken. Ewart Layne signed a statement
after being held for several days in a wooden crate at Point Salines airport.
Several other defendants alleged that they were ill-treated during
interrogation in November 1983 as a result of which they signed
self-incriminating statements. A number of unexplained injuries to the accused
were also revealed during the voir dire stage of the trial, giving rise to
unanswered questions about how these injuries were sustained. Amnesty
International told the government that it believes that these circumstances
are also relevant matters for consideration in the exercise of mercy.
- Amnesty International told the government that it regretted that the written
decision of the Grenada Court of Appeals dismissing the appeals in the above
case has not yet been made available; this might have enabled the organization
to comment more substantively on the issues of concern raised.
Safeguards guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty
adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1984 (ECOSOC
Resolution 1984/50) provide, among other things, that "Capital punishment may
only be carried out pursuant to a legal process which gives all possible
safeguards to ensure a fair trial, at least equal to those contained in Article
14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ...". Amnesty
International is concerned that such safeguards have not been fully met in
the above cases for the reasons outlined above.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Telexes/faxes/telephone calls and airmail letters:
Appeals are particularly welcome from prominent people, members of governments,
church groups, legal/bar associations etc.
- urging that all death sentences be commuted;
- noting that no executions have taken place since 1978 and that a resumption
of executions would be contrary to the spirit of international human rights
standards, which encourage governments to restrict progressively the use of
the death penalty with a view to its ultimate abolition.
Appeals may also urge the government to take into account some of the trial
concerns listed above as strong additional grounds for clemency.
Sir Paul Scoon
[Salutation: Dear Governor General]
Upper Lucas Street
St George's, Grenada
Telexes: 3423 GRENEX GA (attn: Governor General)
Faxes: +809 444 4184
Tel: +809 440 2401
The Honourable Dr Francis R Alexis
Attorney General, Minister of Legal Affairs and Local
[Salutation: Dear Minister]
Ministry of Legal Affairs
St George's, Grenada
The Honourable Nicholas Brathwaite
[Salutation: Dear Prime Minister]
St George's, Grenada
Faxes: +809 444 4116
Designated Minister Advisory Committee on the Prerogative
[Salutation: The Honourable Joan Purcell]
Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Women's Affairs
St George's, Grenada
Telexes: 3422 MINTCA GA
Tel: +809 440 0366/7/8
N.B You may have some difficulty getting through on telex/fax numbers given
for The Honourable Joan Purcell and The Honourable Nicholas Brathwaite. If
this is the case, send appeals to these people via the telex number given for
The Governor General (3423 GRENEX GA). In the event that such difficulties
may occur, phone calls/telexes/faxes and express letters should be made to
diplomatic representatives of Grenada in your own country.
COPIES TO the following newspapers:
- The Grenadian Voice, PO Box 310, Melville Street, St George's, Grenada
Tel: 0101 (809) 440 1498/440 3983; Faxes: 0101 (809) 440 4117
- The Grenada Newsletter, PO Box 65, Scott Street, St George's, Grenada
Tel: 0101 (809) 440 2538
- Caribbean Contact Ltd, PO Box 616, Bridgetown, Barbados
- The Indies Times, Grenville Street, St George's, Grenada
- The Informer, Young Street, St George's, Grenada
Tel: 0101 (809) 440 1530
- The West Indian, West Indian Publishing Co Ltd, 45 Hillsborough Street,
St George's, Grenada
Tel: 0101 (809) 440 2118
and to diplomatic representatives of Grenada in your own country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Where possible, appeals should arrive
by 7 August 1991.