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End the death penalty

...this 18th World/European Day Against the Death Penalty

Maria Carla
Gullotta

Friday, October 09, 2020

Tomorrow, October 10, is recognised as World Day Against the Death Penalty. It is useful, indeed, needed reminder of the ending of the death penalty. Some 142 countries, representing 74 per cent of the UN member states, have already stopped using the death penalty, either by removing it from their penal code or by not carrying out executions for a long time.

Jamaica falls within the second group: Its last execution was in 1988. And the abolitionist trend is continuing, with the number of death sentences and executions also falling. Executions were carried out in 2018 in 20 countries, representing a historic low of only 10 per cent of the country total.

Human rights group Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ) firmly opposes the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment violating the right to life. The death penalty means revenge, not justice, and its abolition contributes to the enhancement of human dignity.

This October 10, 2020 will be dedicated to the right to effective legal representation for individuals who may face a death sentence. Without access to effective legal representation during arrest, detention, trial, and post-trial, due process cannot be guaranteed. In a capital case, the consequences of not having that access can be the difference between life and death. This is why the ones found so often on death row are those who cannot afford to pay for first-rate lawyers; those from the poorer class.

It is also one of the reasons, in a significant number of instances, those given the death penalty are later found innocent, either just before it was inflicted or sadly afterwards. There have been other instances of innocence arriving similarly late by the use of DNA, or through a late confession of the actual guilty person, or from some other piece of discovered evidence. These reveal the danger of not granting the accused, who affirms innocence, the possibility of such an eventuality. It also allows the condemned person, if actually guilty, the opportunity for repentance and reform.

An instance of this last kind occurred in Jamaica when, after 10 years on death row, an inmate had his sentence commuted to life. Later, because of his religious conversion and becoming a pastor, after a number of years he was released and continues today his pastoral work.

On the national and international levels, the right to legal representation is enshrined in most constitutions and human rights instruments. Unfortunately, since justice systems around the world repeatedly violate this right, it is essential for civil society and the wider community to remain alert to the necessity that, at all stages of the legal proceedings, those facing the cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment of execution should at least have access to effective legal representation. Such legal aid can provide the basic protection of either avoiding the sentence or appealing the verdict.

Stand Up for Jamaica is implementing the project: Scale up of Rehabilitation of Inmates — A professional and artistic way to come back into society; Part 3, in several prisons in Jamaica. This project is funded by the European Union.

 

Maria Carla Gullotta is executive director of Stand Up for Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or carlajamaica51@gmail.com.