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Judge: Some killers may never die

Gercine Carter

Judge: Some killers may never die

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MANY CONDEMNED CRIMINALS on death row in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean may never face the death penalty, according to Justice Diego Garcia Sayan, president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
He thinks the likely stay on future executions may result from binding conventions which countries have signed that place conditions and restrictions on carrying out punishment in certain circumstances.
“What is happpening in the Caribbean in the last years is that without the major amendment in constitutions and national law, the death penalty is not fully implemented because of conventions that  [result in] people staying on death row for years or months [and] because there is a climate in which the current in the world is to diminish the death penalty as the magic response to crime.”
Sayan pointed out that more than half the countries in the world have suppressed or don’t apply the death penalty anymore because it has not been proven to be a deterrent to crime.
The top judge spoke to the MIDWEEK NATION after presiding over a recent historic sitting of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Barbados.
He acknowledged there was “this thirst for reprisals by the public” when heinous crimes were committed. But he insisted that “the rule of law should prevail”.
“In Mexico, a country in which more than 50 000 people have been killed in the last three years, in the last two months the Supreme Court has decided that the rule of law should prevail and that the decisions of the inter-American court must be applied by all Mexican judges so they are not following the polls, they are following the principles governing democratic rule,” Sayan said.
He made it clear that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was not above sovereign constitutions. However, he explained that inasmuch as Barbados and other countries had signed the American Convention on Human Rights which established a set of human rights principles, as signatories such countries were bound by terms of the convention.
He was also adamant that the inter-American court was not in “competition or opposition with national constitutions” and insisted it was not intended to undermine supreme courts or the Caribbean Court of Justice. Instead, he said, the court he heads was concerned with “due process and respect for “judicial guarantees” under the conventions to which Barbados and others in the Caribbean had been signatories.
“We do not interfere in the interpretation of the constitution of the law. Our law is the American Convention on Human Rights that establishes a set of human rights principles, and a very important principle which says that a country as part of this treaty must adapt its legislation reliably to the provisions of the American convention,” he said.
Sayan stressed that countries still had the right to impose the death penalty but he said “the procedures must be followed and applied only for the most serious crime”.
“What the court has in its jurisprudence, in a way systematically said, [is that] in cases not only for Barbados but for other countries, this mandatory death sentence is not consistent with the American convention because it does not give the judge the ability to decide. He or she must dictate the death penalty. There is no possibility to interpret the law.”
The major concern, however, was the prolonged length of time people remained on death row.
He observed that while it had been used systematically in areas where crime was increasing, it had been proven that the death penalty did not work.
Sayan conceded there was some scepticism and reluctance to accept the inter-American court in the region, as had been the case in Latin America 20 years ago.
“I have been looking forward to this visit for the last two years because to be frank, it is an area of the Americas [with] which the court has not [had] frequent or strong connections because we have very few cases.
“Not a majority of the Caribbean countries have accepted the jurisdiction of the court,” Sayan said.
He felt the public hearing in Barbados was important “to demonstrate to the public what is the court, how does it work”.