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Amnesty appeal should be listened to

Amnesty International, the global human rights organization, has called on countries in the English-speaking Caribbean to formally remove the death penalty from their laws, noting that no execution has taken place in the region for 10 years. The last execution in The Bahamas was in 2000.

“Ten years ago, on December 19, 2008, the authorities of Saint Kitts and Nevis carried out what was to become the last execution in the Americas, outside the USA,” Amnesty International said in a release.

“This anniversary, which follows on from the observance on November 2 of 25 years since a key judicial decision that put a brake on the implementation of death sentences in the region, offers an opportunity for reflection on the present state of the death penalty in the English-speaking Caribbean.

“Trends on the use of this punishment point to the inevitability of its abolition.”

The November 2 reference was to the famous Pratt and Morgan decision from Jamaica by the Privy Council in 1993. It ruled it would be an inhumane or degrading punishment to execute someone who was under the sentence of death for more than five years.

In 2006, the Privy Council ruled that the mandatory death sentence in The Bahamas was unconstitutional.

In 2011, the Privy Council upheld the murder conviction of Maxo Tido in the killing of a 16-year-old girl in 2002, but ruled the crime did not warrant execution. Even though they called the murder appalling, the law lords determined it did not fall into the “worst of the worst” or the “rarest of the rare” category of murder.

The rulings of the court against the death penalty over the years led to resentencings. They also led judges to stop issuing death sentences; and diminished requests by prosecutors for the penalty.

We have long been against the death penalty. The criminal justice system often gets it wrong. Verdicts are frequently overturned on appeal. The death penalty is final and irreversible. It is also disproportionately carried out on the poor, uneducated and under-represented.

The Amnesty report noted that 106 countries have totally done away with the death penalty in law and 142 countries – more than two thirds in the world – have abolished the sentence in law and practice.

The Bahamas should join these countries and remove the death penalty from its laws. The practice has essentially been ended by the rulings of the court.

Sentencing practices have adjusted. Murder convicts get stiff numerical sentences. The court also imposes life in prison.

Hangings would not help with our crime problem. We need to focus on policies that reduce poverty and social desperation. Our education system needs improvement. Parents need to take a more active role in raising their children with rules and values. Our young men need to be taught non-violent conflict resolution skills. Dynamic economic growth is needed so that jobs are available.

All of that is part of the difficult work that must be done to help reduce the level of violence in our country. If we are successful, killings would be rare.

In this small country there should be 20 or fewer murders per year. Yet, in 2015 there were a record 146.

We have deep-rooted social problems. No overly simplistic singular, yet brutal, solution such as hanging would make things better.

Amnesty is right in its position. We hope our policymakers listen and join the growing group of nations that have retired this punishment.

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