Barbados has gone nearly three decades without imposing the death penalty, though it remains on the country’s law books. But this weekend came a strong reminder that the issue is not a silent one for some,
even if they are far beyond our shores.
On Saturday, the globe observed World Day Against The Death Penalty, and with it came the message from the European Union for the Caribbean to take the “emotions” away from the debate on the death penalty and to abolish hanging as punishment for capital murder.
Said head of the European Union delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Ambassador Mikael Barford: “The EU sees the death penalty as cruel and inhumane; and scientific research has shown that the death penalty in no way acts as a deterrent to crime. Its abolition is essential for the protection of human dignity, as well as for the progressive development of human rights.
“This is a moral issue about the value of human life. As a deeply religious Caribbean society, this is one of the basic tenets that as a community we hold dear. Sentiments such as ‘it is cheaper to kill them then to keep them in prison’ have no place in this era of civilization,”
Equally, proponents could argue that capital punishment should be used as a rare option for the most heinous crimes; a punishment carried out not as a deterrent, but as a true penalty for those we are certain deserve it.
The EU official went on to register his satisfaction that Barbados had not executed any convicted killers since 1984 and that the last execution in the Caribbean was carried out in St Kitts/Nevis in 2008.
The fact is our authorities have already demonstrated that the country is moving in line with the expectations of the European Union.
We recall Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite in January piloting the Offences Against The Person Act which effectively gave judges a range of options for sentencing those convicted of murder. Mr Brathwaite explained that the mandatory imposition of the death penalty was being changed in keeping with Barbados’ obligations under the Inter-American Convention On Human Rights.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has long ruled that the mandatory death penalty violates Articles 4(1) and 4(2) –– which prohibit arbitrary treatment and limit the death penalty to the most serious crimes –– of the Inter-American Convention On Human Rights.
But from Barbadians, who are now almost weekly jolted by senseless shootings and other worrying crimes, the Government and the EU ambassador would find it difficult to get any support. Cries for justice have been mounting from grieving families robbed of their loved ones. And they too have a valid case.
While we cannot say beyond a shadow of doubt that the death penalty is a deterrent to violent crime, we aver there is some substance in that credo held for centuries: let the punishment fit the crime.
On neither side of the divide can the death penalty be treated with kid gloves. It requires strong action, and there must be consensus on how the issue is handled.
It is for this reason that we support Ambassador’s Barford’s position that leaders should show more courage, and launch a meaningful public debate. This tendency to keep things under the carpet has failed in every instance.
The issues are numerous. Is the death penalty a real deterrent? Should a killer be allowed to dole out death but get life? What are appropriate means of administering justice? Should Barbados abandon the death penalty because it is difficult to administer or because of international pressure?
What do the people want?
All profound questions, no doubt; and it’s appropriate that citizens, experts, victims and authorities all have their say in providing the answers.
The time has passed for the debate to begin.