Human Rights Activist and Attorney-at-Law Mary Francis said she plans to continue advocating for the abolition of the mandatory death penalty in Saint Lucia and the Eastern Caribbean region.
Francis told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) today in an interview that while the law has been bypassed for almost two decades here, she still believes that it should be removed entirely from the constitution.
The attorney said the European Union (EU) has been pushing the Caribbean to become part and parcel of the world-wide movement against the death penalty for a number of years.
The UN General Assembly had also adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. This was aimed at encouraging the abolition of the death penalty.
Francis maintains that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent to crime, but rather a a form of revenge.
“We understand that the crime situation in the Caribbean is very high, but this death penalty is part of our pre and post independence law and by virtue of how our constitution was written,” she told SNO.
She reminded that Saint Lucia’s laws were adopted from England and it’s been more than a quarter of a century since that country has abolished the death penalty.
“It must be recognised that 1994 was the last time we had an execution. So in fact most of the Caribbean and the OECS they have actually put a hold on hanging which is our form of death penalty.”
But Francis has advised that the government amend the laws and have it removed and replaced with an alternative such as life imprisonment, stating that killing is wrong whether it is by the state.
She continued: “In Saint Lucia I think there are about 50 men right now awaiting trial for murder. If all those young men had to be hanged, what would happen?” she questioned.
While she admitted that they have done vicious crimes and deserves to face the full brunt of the law, she believes that the government must look at the root of crime.
“We have to attack it from societal level, to ensure that young men don’t turn into to those types of individuals who commit serious crimes, especially murder,” she asserted.
Francis recalls that her advocacy work began in 1999, when she worked on a case alongside a few other prominent lawyers to have the first death sentence case committed to life imprisonment.
She said the perpetrator was due for execution when the judge decided to stop the prosecution of the individual and accepted the application for the person to be put on life imprisonment.
In the same year, Francis got five persons who were on death sentence to be committed to life imprisonment.
“I have done work in the past and continue to believe that maybe in terms of building a more humane society we should set the example and move to do that. We should not be fearful of abolishing the death penalty because it could increase more vicious crimes. There is no scientific evidence to prove that,” she told SNO.
Francis, who is very vocal about several other human rights issues here, has been invited to attend a special conference organised by the EU to discuss the death penalty in Georgetown, Guyana this month end.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have long criticised Caribbean countries mandatory death penalty as too harsh and in breach of international law.
Even though the capital punishment is on the books in a number of English-speaking Caribbean states and polls have shown strong support for the death penalty, executions are rare in the region.
The last execution took place in St. Kitts and Nevis in 2008, when Charles Laplace was hanged for murdering his wife. That was the region’s first outside Cuba since an execution in the Bahamas in 2000.
Politicians of former British colonies have long complained that the London-based Privy Council, the highest appeal court for many Caribbean countries, has stymied their attempts to execute murderers. The regional Caribbean Court of Justice is the highest court of appeal for Barbados, Belize and Guyana.