The Ongoing Hanging Debate

Barbados Nation
September 25, 2000

THE DIFFERENCES raised over capital punishment between a number of Caribbean governments and Amnesty International (AI) have tended to distort somewhat, the role and objectives ofthe organisation. That Amnesty International is taken seriously can be gauged from the fact that it has already been awarded a Noble Peace Prize for the work it has done in defending human rights.

Ironically, it might well be that because it is known that the organisation is taken seriously that the present reaction to AI’s views on capital punishment has resulted in our region.

The latest country to complain about Amnesty International is Trinidad and Tobago, whose Prime Minister, Badeo Panday, has accused the organisation of trying to tarnish his country’s image because it upholds the death penalty as maximum punishment for murderers.

Panday is convinced that the efforts of the international lobbies against capital punishment have contributed “... directly to the growing number of convicted murderers who are the only beneficiaries ...” of their efforts.

The “hanging issue” is one that offers grounds on both sides of the argument in a way that other issues seldom do. An example of this is when the dispute hinges on the “sanctity of life”.

Those who support capital punishment maintain that because they believed in the “sanctity of life” those who murder others must be prepared to forfeit their lives since they dared to take the life of others. They should not take what is sacred to others and go on living.

Yet it is this same principle of the “sanctity of life” that allows those who are against capital punishment to argue that since life is sacred even the state should not be allowed to deprive anyone, even a murderer, of life.

We are already in an environment where many find it hard to accept that those who break the law, the committing of murder apart, should not be heard talking about having any rights. To add that murderers have rights is for this school of thought just too much.

But the area of human rights is not one in which many of our law-makers or attorneys seem over enthusiastic to venture. Whereas great emphasis is placed on the sovereignty of the state, which for some is tantamount to accepting that the state has a right to make certain decisions without being questioned, the same attitude frowns on anyone wanting toraise questions.

Meanwhile, the cloak of “sovereignty” is worn or discarded according to the result desired. We find that in the same Trinidad and Tobago where we were told by one government spokesman that “sovereignty is not all” when the Shiprider agreement with the United States was being questioned on grounds of “sovereignty” that that same sovereignty is not discarded in making the case for capital punishment.

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