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September 24, 1999



Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday, restated at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington on Thursday that for his government, the matter of the death penalty was not a human rights issue. Rather, Mr. Panday told the Organization’s Permanent Council of ambassadors, it was a constitutional obligation that his government had to fulfil.

"Any attempt to portray Trinidad and Tobago as a state not committed to the promotion and protection of human rights is to misrepresent the facts," Mr. Panday emphasized as he defended the decision by his country to maintain the death penalty. He added: "International law allows it and it is a matter that falls squarely within the domestic jurisdiction of sovereign states."

He also made reference to his government’s decision to "denounce" the American Convention on Human Rights, effectively withdrawing its recognition of the hemispheric treaty’s jurisdiction. That decision was made, Mr. Panday stressed, "after engagement with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), after careful deliberation, and with full respect for the provisions of said Convention."

The Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister’s statement came as he joined five Central American presidents and one vice president at a special sitting of the OAS Council. Mr. Panday was with his Central American counterparts in his capacity as Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Conference of Heads of Government. They were in Washington on a joint Caribbean/Central American mission to press their case—before members of the U.S. Congress, Administration and private sector—for enhancement of Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) legislation to benefit Caribbean and Central American exports to the United States.

Like the Central American presidents, Mr. Panday told the OAS ambassadors that his country and the Caribbean region remained committed to the OAS and its efforts at fighting drug trafficking, and at modernization, the Free Trade Area of the Americas and technical cooperation.

The Central American presidents that addressed the OAS Permanent Council were: Miguel Angel Rodríguez of Costa Rica; Francisco Flores of El Salvador; Alvaro Arzú of Guatemala; Carlos Flores of Honduras; and Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic; as well as Vice President Enrique Bolaños of Nicaragua. 

The Costa Rican leader devoted a large part of his presentation before the OAS forum to the crippling effects of oil price increases and recent international financial upheavals, expressing concerns over efforts by the Organization of Oil Producing Countries (OPEC) to suppress production, to keep prices artificially high.

Calling "respectfully for a less restrictive [oil] price stabilization mechanism beneficial to producers and consumers alike," President Rodríguez urged OAS involvement to alleviate the situation, saying the OPEC move undermined the region’s efforts to recover from last year’s devastating Hurricane Mitch.