Covering events from January - December 2003

There were continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by the police and army, sometimes resulting in death. Death sentences continued to be imposed; no executions were carried out. Conditions in places of detention continued to cause concern.

Abuses by police

Torture and ill-treatment by police continued to be reported.

  • In February, Varune Matthew was awarded TT$30,000 (approximately US$5,000) in compensation; he had been beaten by police officers and left bleeding and semi-conscious in November 2000.
  • In June, Aldryn Noel was shot by police officers and died of his injuries. Relatives who stated that they witnessed the incident alleged that two plainclothes police officers ran towards Aldryn Noel without identifying themselves and with guns drawn. The officers fired as Aldryn Noel fled and he was hit in the buttocks. The relatives further alleged that the police officers refused to allow Aldryn Noel to be taken to hospital or to call an ambulance and left him without medical attention for over 30 minutes before a neighbour was allowed to take him to hospital, where he later died.
  • In September, Shaun McLeod died shortly after being taken into custody by police officers. An autopsy reportedly found that he died from bleeding in the brain caused by a blow to the head with a blunt object. Junior St Clair, an eyewitness to the incident, alleged that he too was assaulted and threatened by police in an attempt to prevent him from making a statement in connection with the death of Shaun McLeod. A police officer was charged with manslaughter in connection with Shaun McLeod's death, but had not been tried by the end of the year.

Death penalty

Courts continued to impose death sentences during 2003; at least six men were sentenced to death during the year. More than 80 men and four women remained on death row at the end of 2003. No executions were carried out. In January, the government announced it was drafting new legislation to facilitate the resumption of executions, but no new laws relating to the death penalty had been passed by the end of the year.

In November, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom, the highest court of appeal for Trinidad and Tobago, ruled in the case of Balkissoon Roodal that the mandatory death penalty was in violation of the Constitution. Prior to the ruling, the death penalty was the only available sentence for those convicted of murder. Following the ruling, judges will be required to consider further evidence on whether execution is the appropriate sentence and all those under sentence of death will be granted new sentencing hearings.

Abuses in detention

Conditions in places of detention continued to cause grave concern and in some cases amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Many prisoners lacked the most basic facilities to ensure hygiene. Reports of inmate-upon-inmate violence continued, including some of a sexual nature. A new maximum security prison designed to alleviate prison overcrowding was opened, although security and sewage problems delayed the transfer of some 1,600 prisoners to the facility.

  • In June, Michael Bullock, a prisoner at the maximum security prison, alleged that he was severely beaten by prison guards, resulting in severe injuries including a broken jaw. He claimed he was initially denied adequate medical treatment and was kept in solitary confinement.
  • The trial of the prison officers charged with the murder of detainee Anton Cooper in 2002 had not begun by the end of 2003.

Corporal punishment

Sentences of corporal punishment continued to be imposed by the courts. It was not known if any sentences of corporal punishment were carried out during the year.

  • In December, brothers Winty and Keith Roberts were sentenced to terms of imprisonment and 15 and 10 strokes with a birch respectively for rape and other offences.

Violence against women

Violence against women in the home and community was reported to be widespread. There were numerous reports of women being beaten, raped and killed in the home and incest continued to be a major area of concern. More cases were brought before the courts. However, the system of evidence taking and the court system remained hostile to victims, resulting in fewer perpetrators being brought to justice. The disbanding of the Community Policing Division was reported to be a major contributor to this problem. The authorities responded to the situation by collaborating with non-governmental organizations, but this was constrained by limited funding and a continued lack of coordination between services. Services such as shelters, counselling and support for victims and perpetrators remained inadequate. Mediation centres closed and magistrates and judges remained insufficiently aware of and unresponsive to issues related to violence against women.

AI country visits

In November an AI delegation met with the minister responsible for prisons and the Attorney General.

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