State Killing in the Caribbean

February 13, 2009

The Caribbean.  Beautiful sun-drenched beaches. Palm trees swaying in ocean breezes. Snorkeling.  Scuba diving.  Fruity rum drinks.  Etc.  Those who see the Caribbean as a fabulous tourist destination aren’t inclined to spend much time dwelling on the criminal justice systems of these island nations.  They might have a sense that there is a crime problem, but probably wouldn’t know that the Caribbean in fact has one of the highest murder rates in the world.  Or that this is generating a political movement to bring back executions, which have been rare to non-existent in the region in recent years.

On St. Kitts and Nevis, executions have come back.  On December 19, Charles Elroy Laplace was put to death by hanging, and it is not clear whether his right to be provided with legal assistance to apply for clemency or to file a final appeal was honored.  Denial of this kind of assistance would be a violation of international law and UN standards on the death penalty.

There are seven other men on death row in St. Kitts and Nevis, which has a total population of around 46,000, a death row incarceration rate of about 15 per 100,000.  (By contrast the US rate is a little more than 1 per 100,000.)  St. Kitts and Nevis had 23 murders last year — an appalling rate of about 50 per 100,000 (The 2007 U.S. murder rate was around 5.6 per 100,000.) 

But while the violent crime problems in many Caribbean nations are severe, executions will not solve them; three people were shot the day after Charles Laplace was executed.

Amnesty International is calling for St. Kitts and Nevis to implement a moratorium on executions, so that the public will no longer be distracted by the spectacle of hangings, and will be able to focus on less dramatic but infinitely more effective crime prevention measures (improved policing, better social services, mental health care, drug treatment).