may press release banner.GIF (28717 bytes)


May 26, 1999



Trinidad and Tobago’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which takes effect today, took the spotlight as the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council considered issues that it will refer to the foreign ministers of the 34 members states at next month’s annual General Assembly in Guatemala.

Speaking at today’s Permanent Council sitting—the last one before the General Assembly—Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador, Michael Arneaud, said the decision made a year ago to withdraw from the Convention stemmed from the "total dissatisfaction and frustration …with the performance of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights," a reference to what he outlined as the way the Commission allowed itself "to become the tool of those who seek the abolition of the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago.

"The question is not whether capital punishment should be carried out. That question has already been decided by the people of Trinidad and Tobago," he said, noting how the Commission’s delays hindered timely processing of death penalty cases, which could breach the fundamental rights prescribed in the nation’s Constitution. But he emphasized that "The denunciation of the Convention in no way jeopardizes or diminishes the individual rights of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago…. The right to a fair trail and to protection from inhuman, degrading, cruel and unusual treatment or punishment are fully protected by the Constitution." The country will remain party to the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, however.

Ambassador Arneaud pointed out that the Convention itself "recognizes the legality of the death penalty under international law" and complained that despite this and the fact that both international and municipal law recognized the legality of the death penalty, "those who oppose the death penalty have sought to breach this domestic jurisdiction."

In the mean time, the Ambassador outlined moves to streamline the procedures in capital punishment cases through administrative, judicial, legislative and other reforms. He said they were already yielding results with faster appeal processes and death penalty appeal cases were now meeting the time-frames set by the Privy Council, the nation’s highest appeal court. 

Kingsley Layne, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ambassador, told the meeting that his country "fully supports" the Trinidad and Tobago position, which was similar to other Caribbean country which had death penalty provisions.

The OAS Permanent Council meeting, chaired by Argentina’s Ambassador Julio CÚsar Araoz, took up a package of resolutions and annual reports on matters ranging from human rights to arms and drug trafficking, terrorism, special fellowship programs for Caribbean countries, representative democracy, technical cooperation, climate change and natural disasters, hemispheric security, integral development and OAS reform.