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World day Agianst the Death Penalty 2013: Greater Caribbean

On 10 October 2013, the 11th World Day Against the Death Penalty is dedicated to the Greater Caribbean where few executions take place, but where a core of countries remain strongly opposed to abolition.

The Greater Caribbean, also known as the Caribbean Basin, is composed of 25 countries:

  • 10 countries are abolitionist in law: Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador (for ordinary crimes only), Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominican Republic and Venezuela
  • 2 countries are considered abolitionist in practice: Grenada and Suriname
  • 13 countries are retentionist: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The paradox of retentionist Caribbean: few executions but a core of countries strongly opposed to abolition

Many countries in the Caribbean region continue to retain the death penalty as part of their criminal justice system. The use of capital punishment, however, has dramatically declined in these retentionist countries, highlighting the apparent disparities between policy and practice.
The last execution in the Caribbean took place in 2008 in St. Kitts and Nevis and only three states issued death sentences in 2012
(Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago).
However, at the international level, Caribbean votes against the UN General Assembly resolutions on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty represent more than 1/4 of the total votes opposed to the global moratorium. Most of the Caribbean retentionist states have consistently voted against the resolution and have signed the Note Verbale, dissociating them from the moratorium.

Different answers to high homicide rates

Latin America and the Caribbean account for 8.5 per cent of the world’s population, yet 27 per cent of all global homicides took place in the region according to a 2012 report by the UN Development Programme.
Significantly, no scientific study to date has proved that violent crime rates are linked to the application of the death penalty. Costa Rica, abolitionist for over a century, has a low homicide rate similar to that of Antigua and Barbuda, a retentionist country, while Honduras, an abolitionist state since 1956, has a higher homicide rate than retentionist Jamaica.
The death penalty is often seen as a desperate response to a rise in violent crime, but does not address the underlying causes of criminal behaviour. In fact, some governments are increasingly realising that they must focus on prevention rather than punishment. This includes increasing investment in education, youth development, creating jobs, solving crime, and reducing poverty and socio-economic disparity.

Restriction of the use of the death penalty: the role of international human rights bodies

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the UN Human Rights Committee, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (traditional Court of Appeal for Commonwealth countries) have all taken positive steps to restrict and reduce the application of the death penalty in practice across the Caribbean. Together, these bodies have successfully limited the amount of time a person could spend on death row, and have abolished the mandatory death penalty.
Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are the only two countries continuing to apply the mandatory death penalty for murder. Guyana abolished the mandatory death penalty for murder in 2010. The death penalty, however, remains applicable for certain categories of murder.

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