Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Making Mandatory Death Penalty in Barbados unconstitutional

July 23, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the judgment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that declared that the mandatory death penalty in Barbados is unconstitutional. 

The judgment was delivered by the CCJ on June 27, 2018 in relation to two mandatory death penalty cases from Barbados: Jabari Sensimania Nervais v The Queen and Dwayne Omar Severin v The Queen. The Court stated that section 2 of the Offences Against the Person Act was unconstitutional because it provided for a mandatory sentence of death.

With respect to Dwayne Omar Severin and Jabari Sensimania Nervais, on May 5, 2018, the IACHR adopted Resolution 33/2018, related to petition P-2457-17, by which it granted precautionary measures, requesting that the State of Barbados refrain from executing the death penalty against them until the IACHR has ruled on their petition; adopt the necessary measures to preserve their lives and personal integrity; among others. After analyzing the allegations of fact and law, the Commission considered that said matter met the requirements of seriousness, urgency and risk of irreparable harm, in part because of the impact that the death row would have on the rights of Dwayne Omar Severin and Jabari Sensimania Nervais, of 3 and 6 years, respectively, as well as the effect that execution would have on their rights to life and personal integrity, making a future pronouncement of the Commission ineffective.

In similar terms, on the same May 5th, the IACHR adopted Resolution 34/2018, related to petition P-1046-17, by which it granted precautionary measures in favor of Clyde Anderson Grazette regarding Barbados, who has been in the death row for 11 years and awaiting  for the Government to pass a Law that abolish the death penalty.

The IACHR applauds the CCJ’s finding that “it was indisputable that the nation, through its actions, had acknowledged that it had an obligation to remove such mandatory sentence under section 2 of the Offences against the Person Act” and that “Barbados had also given undertakings to the CCJ and the Inter American Court of Human Rights to rectify the mandatory sentence.”

For more than 15 years, the Commission and the Inter American Court of Human Rights have affirmed that the mandatory death penalty cannot be reconciled with Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The cases of Hilaire, Constantine and Benjamin (Trinidad and Tobago), Boyce and others (Barbados) and Dacosta Cadogan (Barbados) are examples of mandatory death penalty cases dealt with first by the Commission and then the Court. The laws at issue in these cases did not distinguish between different classifications of murder, or consider whether the perpetrator had the intent to kill. Under these laws the death penalty could be issued for crimes of differing degrees of seriousness, and sentencing could be inconsistent. Through these and other cases, the Commission and Court established that the automatic imposition of the death penalty without consideration of the individual circumstances of the offence or the offender is incompatible with the rights to life, humane treatment and due process.

The Commission notes that many Caribbean countries have already courts of national jurisdiction have found the mandatory death penalty to be unconstitutional in countries including Saint Lucia (The Queen v. Hughes), Dominica (Balson v. The State), Belize (Reyes v. The Queen), The Bahamas (Bowe v. The Queen) and Grenada (Coard et al. v. Grenada), among other examples. Following this period of reexamination of the mandatory death penalty, a number of countries have abolished that aspect of the death penalty. The judges of Belize, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Guyana, among others, now have the discretion to impose lesser sentences.

“This decision by Barbados’ highest court serves to reinforce the jurisprudence of the Inter American Human Rights System” said Joel Hernández García, IACHR Country Rapporteur for Barbados.  The Rapporteur also noted that “The CCJ’s judgment reflects major progress in the Caribbean region in enforcing States’ obligation to eliminate the mandatory death penalty in accordance with international human rights standards”.

The IACHR urges the State of Barbados to take whatever legislative steps might be necessary to amend the Offences Against the Person Act, so as to bring it into conformity with the judgment of the CCJ. As were disposed by the Court in its ruling, “those persons convicted of murder and sentenced to death pursuant to Section 2 of the OAPA or who have had their mandatory death sentences commuted to life imprisonment be brought with reasonable expedition before the Supreme Court for resentencing”.

Finally, the IACHR takes the opportunity to stress the need for countries that still allow for capital punishment in their legislation to move toward the goal of abolishing the death penalty throughout the region or at least imposing a moratorium on its application. The Commission invites States that have not done so to ratify the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 159/18