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50 years of sovereignty must be respected

ANTHONY GOMES

Wednesday, August 22, 2012    

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The international debate on the issue of the death penalty continues, with the accustomed mantra of the abolitionists, this time by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calling for the imposition of a moratorium in the application of the death penalty, in concert with the European Union, and both targeting Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. These demands meld with others to accept same-sex marriages, embrace homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle and legalise buggery, accompanied by veiled threats of economic deprivation in the event of non-compliance.

The above smacks of a policy of extending a country's influence through trade and diplomacy, also called old-fashioned imperialism. The difference now is that Jamaica and other Caribbean states have become independent sovereign nations, with constitutions related to the lives of their nationals who view the demands of the US and EU as unfavourable, that run contrary to their cultures and in certain cases are distasteful and unacceptable in the minds of their people.

In Jamaica's case, The Gleaner in its weekly poll of October 23, 2005, showed 79 per cent in favour of the immediate resumption of the death penalty. Mrs Glenys Kinnock, a member of the EU Parliament, said: "I think it's an absolutely fundamental aspect of how a democracy tackles crime. To take a life in that way is not the way to set an example as a state of how you should conduct your business." She could also have been referring to the US. Her observation overlooks the nature of the barbaric killings taking place in Jamaica, and the multiple shooting deaths in the US that so far, excepting the terrorist attack in London which took many lives, has not afflicted the UK.

Additionally, the IACHR "recommends the (Caribbean) states to ratify the Protocol to the American Convention to Abolish the Death Penalty; to refrain from any measure that would expand the application of the death penalty or reintroduce it (and) to take any measures necessary to ensure compliance with the strictest standards of due process in capital cases". This recommendation was addressed in November 2007 when the UN voted on a non-binding resolution on a death penalty moratorium and ultimate abandonment that resulted in 99 votes in favour, 52 against, with 33 abstentions, and was rejected by Jamaica and other Caribbean countries as well as China, Singapore and the US, among others. The US representative stated: "The US recognises that supporters of this resolution hold principled positions on the issue of the death penalty. Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that international law does not prohibit capital punishment." The US maintained that capital punishment is not a human rights issue, but a matter of law enforcement. The IACHR should take note. The domestic laws of the sovereign state of Jamaica are determined by its Constitution and enforced by its government without any intrusion by non-elected world organisations.

Regarding the religious argument against the death penalty as expressed in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, that does not preclude use of the death penalty. This is stated in Article 2260: "The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God's gift of human life and man's murderous violence: 'For your life blood I will surely require a reckoning. Whosoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image'. The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life. This teaching remains necessary for all time."

The second reference is made in article 2267: "Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor."

A principal premise of opposition to capital punishment is the possibility of jury error resulting in the conviction of an innocent person. Undoubtedly, there have been past instances of such regrettable tragedies. Consequently, condemned prisoners have been freed by the innovative use of DNA that proved their innocence. It is therefore reasonable to argue that proactively the same DNA technique could be used to determine a person's guilt, thereby reducing the occasion for jury error to an infinitesimal factor. The DNA technique is now available in Jamaica. While Jamaica has not executed any death row inmates since the 1980s, this is not the case with our major trading partner to the north, the United States, whose lifestyle is closely emulated in Jamaica and which is better deserving of attention by the EU and Washington's crusade. For example, the US has executed 24 inmates up to July 19 this year. Also, 62 women are now on death row as at January 1, 2012, and 12 have been executed by lethal injection since 1976. The US Federal Supreme Court has ruled that lethal injection is not inhumane and should continue to be used for its intended purpose.

The argument that capital punishment is not a deterrent continues, but the absence of capital punishment has not reduced killings as illustrated in Jamaica, where murders increased significantly since the 1980s. With the advent of the Caribbean Court of Justice, the application of Caribbean jurisprudence would reflect more accurately and definitively the judgements handed down by judges who are better acquainted with Caribbean culture.

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