Thursday, February 22, 2018

Warner's 'hang them' campaign


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IN THE Cabinet of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar only a Jack Warner, the ebullient Minister of Works, will put his energy, time and personal resources to stir the passion of citizens of this nation, in the midst of Carnival 2012, to embrace a national campaign for enforcement of the death penalty for murder.

The warriors for abolition of the death penalty—either by strangulation (hanging), electrocution or lethal injection—are inclined to become even more aggressive in a season of skyrocketing murders, some as gruesome, barbaric as could be with little children, pregnant mothers, aged grandparents, cops and priests among the victims. Now is such a season in this and a few other Caricom states.

But, like prostitution, reputedly the world's oldest "profession", it remains an uphill battle to achieve consensus to either enforce or abolish the death penalty for murder. Ask the governments and civil society organisations in countries like this and Jamaica—the so-called primary Caribbean capitals for murder.

Consequently, while Opposition Leader Keith Rowley of the People's National Movement engages in political footwork with his semantics over the enactment of new legislation to resume the enforcement of execution by hanging convicted murders, Minister Warner has chosen today for launching what he envisages to spread into a nationwide signature campaign to get capital punishment back on track.

Apparently emotionally wounded by the recent murder of three fishermen from his Felicity constituency in central Trinidad, Warner, like a great many other well meaning citizens, has long been lamenting the criminal epidemic sweeping this nation where an expanding trade in illegal drugs and guns holds much explanation for the killing spree that respects neither gender, race, religion nor age. So today, aware of the "package of crime legislation" that Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's administration has prepared to deal with "the tsunami of crime" inflicting the nation, Warner, ever-ready to fight against personal or political battles, will begin the campaign to produce, he hopes, the biggest tally of signatories urging lawmakers to enforce the law to hang all convicted murderers.

With some 354 murders committed in 2011—the killings have been higher previously—and averaged at least a murder a day for this just-concluded January.

Against the spreading horrors of gun-related murders, Warner has mobilised scores of volunteers, in addition to paid workers in offices, to be involved in a "house-to-house" pro-death penalty signature campaign across communities in Trinidad and Tobago.

There was a period, up to about eleven years ago as I recall, when hanging of convicted murderers was the norm in this country, with the spilling of blood by popping necks and provoking much excitement among the populace and some very bitter verbal exchanges between opponents and advocates of the death penalty.

Truth is, that there remains an absence of empirical data to support claims—anywhere—of the death penalty being an effective deterrent to criminal rampage and, specifically, murder.

I share the view of human rights organisations and institutions that the pursuit of creative energies in favour of more enlightened policies and methods in crime-fighting; serious reforms in the penal system and a focus on life imprisonment without parole may be better alternatives to expending energies and resources to enforce the death penalty here, or wherever capital punishment is constitutionally enshrined.

It is fairly widely felt in a number of jurisdictions, in and out of the Caribbean region (including Jamaica, Guyana, The Bahamas and St. Lucia with comparatively high murder rates), that given the prevailing obsession for killers to "swing from the gallows", little thought has been spared in favour of life imprisonment without parole as a desirable alternative punishment for the death penalty.

Some think that this could be a greater punishment than prescribed periods for judicial execution. This perspective would, of course, be quite challenging for Trinidad and Tobago, as well as those of its Caricom partners that have long been identified as active proponents of the International Criminal Court (ICC), establishment of which former President ANR Robinson was an eloquent participant.

At the level of the Hague-based ICC, those found guilty of crimes against humanity, including genocide, life imprisonment without parole is the ultimate punishment favoured, not the death penalty in any form—firing squad, lethal injection or else.

Question for consideration, therefore: can any Caricom state, for example Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica or Guyana, that constitutionally requires the death penalty for convicted murderers, continue to ignore the reality of the maximum punishment of life imprisonment for crimes as imposed by the ICC?

In the meanwhile, as the "tsunami of crime" sweeps this nation and some politicians speak with forked tongues, while the Police Service remains seemingly overwhelmed by the strategies, brazenness and resources of armed criminals, Jack Warner is launching his mission to at least verify, with signatures, the many people of this country who want the authorities to resume hanging for murder.