Report on the views of opinion leaders on the reasons why the death penalty has not been abolished in the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados
- 7 Apr 2020
The Death Penalty Project today published its latest report: Sentenced to Death Without Execution: Why capital punishment has not yet been abolished in the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal with the assistance of Amaya Athill.
This research study provides new empirical evidence based on the opinions of informed, influential citizens of why, in all the six member states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Barbados, the death penalty remains on their statute books even though no persons have been executed for many years. The last execution in the region was carried out in St Kitts and Nevis in 2008. No one has been executed in the other countries for more than 20 years and in Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and Barbados for more than 30 years. Nine of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries (including all jurisdictions addressed in this study, except for Barbados) have nobody, or only one prisoner, on death row. The research sheds light on why these countries hang on to capital punishment and what are the barriers and hindrances to its complete abolition.
This research, the first of its kind in the Caribbean region, interviewed personally 100 people, drawn from the seven jurisdictions, who were regarded by our knowledgeable local collaborators as ‘opinion formers’. They were selected from four areas of public life: politics and the higher civil service; criminal justice and legal practice; religious leaders; and well-regarded and influential members of civil society. Forty-eight revealed they favoured retention of the death penalty and 52 favoured of its abolition. The main findings are as below: –
Why did respondents think their governments failed to support abolition of capital punishment?
There was a large gap between what the informed respondents stated was their justification for retaining or for abolishing capital punishment and the reasons they attributed to their governments for not abolishing the death penalty.
- Eighty-four per cent of those who favoured retention chose a retributive response as their main reason (to show that murder is the very worst crime/and some deserve to be executed) but only 10% chose deterrence (that murders would increase as a result of abolition) and none chose public opinion as their main reason.
- Two-thirds of those who favoured abolition chose as their main reason that the death penalty had no extra deterrent effect, or it was an abuse of human rights or because of the possibility of wrongful conviction and execution. Only 8% chose as their main reason the fact that it was pointless because no executions were carried out.
- In contrast, the majority of respondents thought that their government had not supported abolition because they believed the majority of citizens were in favour of retention and/or that it was necessary as a deterrent.
Were those who favoured retention of the death penalty strongly opposed to its abolition?
- Only a minority were committed to retaining capital punishment and would vigorously oppose its abolition. It is significant that a higher proportion (30/52) of those in favour of abolition were strongly/firmly in favour of it (58%) than were those (18/48) who supported retention of the death penalty (38%).
- Only 18 of the 100 respondents favoured any expansion in the use of the death penalty or in the number of executions.
- Only 10 of the 100 respondents (six retentionists and four abolitionists) endorsed ‘more executions’ as likely to be effective in reducing the incidence of serious violent crime leading to death. In contrast, 76% chose first either ‘better moral education of young people against the use of violence’, ‘more effective policing in bringing offenders to justice’, or ‘reducing poverty and improving housing’ as the most effective crime reduction policy.
- Three-quarters of the 100 (including two-thirds of those who favoured retention of the death penalty) endorsed the view that ‘the majority of the public would come to accept [abolition] if the death penalty were to be abolished or would immediately accept it’.
- Only 10 [of the 48] who favoured retention said they would ‘strongly oppose an Act of Parliament to completely abolish the death by definitely voting against it’ (including only seven of the 22 who had said they were strongly in favour of retention.
The findings of this survey suggest that those ‘opinion formers’ who supported the retention of the death penalty and their government’s resistance to the international moratorium, did not personally accept that assumptions about the strength of public opposition to abolition should determine the issue. “When questioned more closely, most of these knowledgeable and influential citizens did not predict that there would be grave consequences if the death penalty were to be abolished completely and — with only a few exceptions — they would not oppose or reject total abolition of capital punishment if their government were to take the lead”.
Parvais Jabbar and Saul Lehrfreund, Co-Executive Directors of The Death Penalty Project, say:
The global trend of moving towards complete abolition of the death penalty continues. Judicial restrictions on the imposition of death sentence and the absence of actual execution for several years has already set the Caribbean on the path to abolition. We hope the findings of this research provides the governments with the evidence it requires to question their policy on the death penalty and alter their stance.
Leela Ramdeen, Executive Board Member, The Greater Caribbean for Life says:
“A study of this kind is the absolute need of the hour. The Caribbean countries have never had the benefit of an empirical study of this nature, looking at the opinions of influential individuals on the death penalty. It is time for the respective governments to show principled leadership to bring an end to capital punishment in the Caribbean. For the first time, they can rely on accurate data and independent research to introspect on their stance on the death penalty and take the necessary steps required for abolition”.
Notes to editors
This study was co-funded by a grant received from the European Union and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The study has been carried out as part of a larger collaborative project funded by the European Union and undertaken by The Death Penalty Project; the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies (Cave Hill); local civil society organisations Greater Caribbean for Life and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association; and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
Professor Roger Hood (Emeritus Professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford and one of the foremost experts on the death penalty worldwide) was commissioned to devise this research and write the report and his colleague Dr Florence Seemungal (adjunct staff member of the University of the West Indies Open Campus) was responsible for organising and carrying out the fieldwork, assisted by attorney-at -law Amaya Athill.