Amnesty International Report 1994 - Trinidad and Tobago

An 11-year-old boy was flogged. There were attempts to resume executions but none were carried out. At least four people were sentenced to death. Fifty death sentences were commuted. At the end of the year there were just over 50 people on death row. In April an 11-year-old boy was sentenced by a magistrate to receive a flogging of 20 strokes, in violation of national law and international standards prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. He had pleaded guilty to a charge of being in possession of cocaine; he had, allegedly, been given a small sum of money to carry the drugs from one adult to another. The Corporal Punishment (Offenders not over Sixteen) Act allows offenders under 16 to be given six strokes with a tamarind or similar rod. The flogging was carried out immediately after sentencing, with a leather belt. The boy was therefore denied the right of appeal, already seriously restricted by this Act. Furthermore, the magistrate ordered the boy to be confined and to receive no visitors, not even his parents. The right for children deprived of their liberty to maintain contact with their family through visits and correspondence is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Trinidad and Tobago is a party. A court hearing seeking compensation and other redress for the boy, which was due to take place in May, was postponed several times and had not taken place by the end of the year. New death sentences were imposed and there were renewed attempts to resume executions. There have been no executions since 1979. Four men were sentenced to death in March, all for the murder of a businessman nearly four years before. Five prisoners, convicted of murder between 1977 and 1988, were issued with execution warrants during the year: Michael Bullock and Irvin Phillips were scheduled for execution in August; Ramcharan Bickaroo and Robinson LaVende, two of the longest-serving death row prisoners in the Caribbean, were to have been hanged in October; and Victor Baptiste was also to be hanged in October. However, all five were granted stays of execution by the High Court after constitutional motions were filed on their behalf, arguing that executions would infringe their constitutional rights. The motions had not been heard by the end of the year. The appeals of Gayman Jurisingh, Peter Matthews and Faizal Mohammed, who were scheduled for execution in November 1992, were dismissed by the Court of Appeal in April (see Amnesty International Report 1993). They were granted conditional leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London, which is the final court of appeal for Trinidad and Tobago, but their appeal was still pending at the end of the year. The decision in their cases also affected Brian Francois and Lal Seeratan, whose executions had been scheduled for December 1992 (see Amnesty International Report 1993). A decision by the JCPC in the case of two Jamaican prisoners - that execution more than five years after sentencing would constitute "inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment" and that sentences should be commuted to life imprisonment - was applicable to cases in Trinidad and Tobago (see Jamaica entry). In December the Attorney General announced that 50 prisoners who had been under sentence of death for over five years would have their sentences commuted. The 10 prisoners who had been scheduled for execution between November 1992 and October 1993 benefited from the ruling. The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal of a death row prisoner sentenced for a murder committed in 1979. Bunny Brann was convicted in 1980 and then in 1985 and 1988 as a result of retrials following successful appeals. At his latest appeal the court ruled against another retrial on account of the time he had already spent in prison, the evidence against him and the cost of further proceedings; it ordered his release on 7 October. He had spent 13 years on death row. The court reserved a decision on his co-appellant, Donaldson Mottley. However, his was one of the 50 sentences commuted in December. In May Amnesty International wrote to the Minister of Legal Affairs to express concern about the flogging of the 11-year-old boy and said he should be entitled to fair and adequate redress from the state, including financial compensation. The organization urged the government to ensure that those involved in the judicial process were fully informed of the provisions of current legislation; to amend the country's laws to reflect its obligations under international law; and to make these obligations widely known, especially to those involved in judicial procedures. Amnesty International urged the government to abolish corporal punishment and not to permit its use as a judicial punishment or to punish breaches of discipline in prisons. Amnesty International appealed to the government to grant clemency to all prisoners under sentence of death and made specific appeals on behalf of prisoners whose executions were scheduled. In August Amnesty International protested to Prime Minister Patrick Manning about statements reportedly made by the Minister of National Security shortly before the scheduled August executions. The Minister was quoted as having urged members of the public to protest against the actions of those who he said were "overly concerned with the rights of the criminal", apparently a reference to human rights lawyers who intervene in death penalty cases. He reportedly said, "when they file their motions to stop the hangings you must get up and let your voices be heard", which Amnesty International feared could lead to harassment or intimidation of lawyers and a reduction in the number willing to assist death row prisoners. Amnesty International drew attention to the requirements of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, and was further concerned that the Minister's strongly retentionist views could affect his review of cases carried out as Chairman of the Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy. No replies had been received from the government by the end of the year.

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