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TT Humanist Statement on the Death Penalty
The Prime Minister’s statement that his government intends to take measures to enable hanging to be resumed is only the latest in a series of such announcements made by this and previous governments. Their sole purpose has been to play cynically on citizens’ fears while avoiding the hard and patient work in all areas of intervention that is the only way the problem can be successfully addressed.
Each administration has proposed measures to limit the legal and Constitutional restrictions on hanging, and each one, on leaving office, has opposed the same measures when they were proposed by its successor. Each party has always been more concerned to deny the other the dubious credit of hanging people than to solve the crime situation.
Mr. Manning is therefore echoing the call of the last UNC government for the support of the Opposition in imposing the same constitutional limitations on the right of appeal that the UNC tried to achieve. The then-Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj went so far as, first, to attempt to limit the jurisdiction of the UN and Inter-American Human Rights bodies, and having failed in this, brought widespread international opprobrium on the country by withdrawing from the respective human rights treaties.
Since 1976 three more countries per year have added themselves to the list of nations that have abolished capital punishment. South Africa, for example, abolished the death penalty as soon as it freed itself from the brutalities of apartheid, of which hanging was a principal weapon. In December 2007 the United Nations General Assembly passed by a majority of 104 member states a resolution calling for moratoria and eventual abolition of the death penalty.
Many studies have shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder. To cite just one example, the state of Texas in the United States executes more people than any other, but the murder rate in Texas has not fallen. In New York, where the death penalty is on the books but has not been used for many years, the murder rate is at an all-time low. In the world as a whole, most countries without the death penalty are also those with the lowest murder rates.
Along with moral arguments there are financial ones: the cost of executions is not lower but higher than that of imprisonment. In addition, the death penalty targets the poorest, most ignorant and least privileged citizens, while the more affluent have a greater chance of escaping it. Examples abound in our own recent history. There is also the ever-present danger of executing the innocent, especially in countries with police and legal systems as shaky as ours.
Crime will not be reduced by grabbing at irrational, barbaric, quick-fix ideas. Instead, the authorities, and the nation as a whole, must take the long term view, adopt policies based on dispassionate and empirical investigation, and institute pro-active and preventative solutions rather than hypocritical, emotionally-charged measures which have more to do with what is good for the political party than what is good for the society.
T&T Humanist Association