Death penalty 2013: Executions no solution to violent crime in the Caribbean

Governments in some Caribbean countries keep threatening to bring back executions to stem a rising tide of violent crime, ignoring genuinely effective long-term criminal justice solutions, said Amnesty International today at the launch of its annual review of the death penalty worldwide.

“When it comes to tackling crime, the death penalty is nothing but a false promise. There is no credible evidence that executions are a particular deterrent to crime. While our deepest sympathies go to the victims of crime, the death penalty is not the solution,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Director for the Americas.

“The continued emphasis on capital punishment does nothing but divert resources from the real problems. To root out crime and violence, Caribbean governments need to address underlying issues like the uncontrolled access to guns, weaknesses in police investigations and a lack of resources in the criminal justice system.” 

Over the past year, different English-speaking Caribbean countries, such as the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, threatened to resume executions or to introduce legal amendments aimed at facilitating the use of the death penalty as a tool to crack down on violent crime. But there is no evidence that the death penalty works as a particular deterrent to crime; it is still on the books in six of the 10 Caribbean states with the highest murder rates.

In 2013, there were no executions in Latin America and the Caribbean, but almost half of the region’s countries (15 of 33) have yet to legally abolish the death penalty, meaning it remains a threat. 

At least 15 new death sentences were imposed in the region in 2013: two in the Bahamas, two in Barbados, at least six in Guyana and at least five in Trinidad and Tobago. This does not represent a significant increase from 2012, when at least 12 death sentences were recorded.

In a positive development, at least three countries in the Greater Caribbean – Grenada, Guatemala and Saint Lucia – reported empty death rows for the first time since Amnesty International began keeping records in the 1980s.

“The trend towards abolition is a reality in the Caribbean, as it is in the rest of the world. The fact that there were no people on death row in three countries across the region for the first time in decades is just one small confirmation of this,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

In defending executions, politicians in some countries fell back on alleged public support for the death penalty as a reason to keep or bring it back in legislation. 

“The ‘public support defence’ of the death penalty is simply not credible. The tide is slowly turning, and more and more voices – whether former government officials, civil society or concerned citizens – are demanding change,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

“Caribbean governments have a role to play in shaping public opinion. Why do we never see any officials talking about how the majority of countries around the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice? Where is the meaningful and informed debate on the death penalty? Public discourse should include human rights education programmes and initiatives that would provide information and promote a culture that respects the right to life.”

Across the Caribbean, voices against the death penalty are becoming louder. In October last year, the Greater Caribbean for Life (GCL) was formally established in Trinidad and Tobago. This network of activists and organizations will campaign against the death penalty in the region, including by creating a culture of promotion and protection of human rights.