May 6, 1999
RENEWING CONCERNS OVER DEATH-PENALTY
APPEAL DELAYS, CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES SUGGEST
EXPANDING REGIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS AGENCY
Jamaica has suggested that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) could become more efficient by expanding its membership to ensure it represents both the common law and civil law systems.
The matter came up today as the Jamaican, Trinidad and Tobago and Bahamian delegations to the Organization of American States (OAS) raised afresh their concerns over delays by the human rights body in handling appeals to it by death-row inmates in those countries. The remarks were made as OAS member country delegations reviewed the human rights agencys 1998 Annual Report presented by Commission Chairman Robert Goldman. The report is to be referred to the OAS General Assembly session in June.
Jamaicas Alternate Representative to the OAS, Rolande Price, in a statement to todays meeting of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, said countries such as hers applied both the common law and civil law systems and an expanded Commission would also "facilitate a more expeditious handling of the Commissions ever-increasing workload." She said in an effort to get a quick response from the Commission, the Jamaican government had reformed its domestic procedures so it could reply to the Commission in a third of the time the Commission required.
Other suggestions advanced by the Jamaican delegation to improve the agencys operations included: immediate consideration of the merits of a petition after it is judged as admissible, especially in time-sensitive cases relating to death-row inmates; a stricter deadline for petitioners to file supplemental submissions; and more frequent meetings so work schedules can be met.
Bahamas Ambassador Sir Arlington Butler spoke about his countrys "excellent human rights record." He said the Bahamas, which was not party to the American Convention on Human Rights, was exercising its right to maintain capital punishment for the most serious crimes. This was a right which, he pointed out, was recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights.
Raising anew to the "pattern of dilatory action" by the IACHR in dealing with death-penalty casesraised by the Jamaican Attorney General before the Commission last yearSir Arlington stressed that "The Bahamas cannot be held to ransom, for an unprescribed period, so much so that the domestic laws of the land become frustrated and as a result its citizens no longer believe in the proper implementation of law and order."
Trinidad and Tobagos Alternate Representative, Sandra Honoré-Braithwaite, also outlined that Caribbean countrys concerns over the death-penalty issue in the hemispheric human rights body.
El Salvadors Ambassador Mauricio Granillo chaired the meeting, where the delegations of Mexico, Peru and Brazil, among others, took up the matter of the Commissions making public its reports on admissibility of cases.
The delegations also expressed their views about the human rights bodys office of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, with some cautioning that it should not be a mechanism to report on violations. That function, they insisted, belonged to the IACHR itself.