IACHR refers case on Trinidad and Tobago to the Inter-American Court

July 6, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On June 23, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Kevin Dial and Andrew Dottin regarding Trinidad and Tobago before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the international responsibility of the State for the imposition of the mandatory death penalty against Kevin Dial and Andrew Dottin.

Kevin Dial and Andrew Dottin were arrested by the police on February 24, 1995, and charged with the February 20, 1995, murder of Junior Baptiste, primarily based on the identification evidence of Baptiste's elder brother. On January 21, 1997, they were convicted and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty by the High Court of Justice in Port of Spain. The convictions were affirmed by the Court of Appeal on October 16, 1997. Further appeals to the Board of the Privy Council were dismissed.

According to the information provided by the petitioners, not contested by the State, on January 12, 2005, State authorities confirmed in writing that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago had accepted the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ("Privy Council" or JCPC) decision in Charles Matthew, and would commute the sentences of those affected, which included Kevin Dial and Andrew Dottin. However, local media reported in June 2005 indicating that the Advisory Committee on the Power of Pardon was scheduled to consider the death row inmates' case, which was followed by a statement by the Attorney General to the House of Representatives on June 6, 2005, outlining his intention to execute all those on death row. On June 10, 2005, the Ministry of National Security informed the victims in writing of its intention to convene hearings in respect of their sentences to consider issuing warrants of execution; and it also indicated its intention to begin executions as early as June 14, 2005.

A constitutional motion was filed on June 13, 2005, for a declaration that execution would be unlawful. A conservatory order was granted by the Port of Spain High Court imposing temporary stays on execution. The constitutional motion was granted and on August 15, 2008, the sentences of the victims were commuted to life imprisonment.

In its Report on the Merits, the Inter-American Commission recalled that, according to the longstanding jurisprudence of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court, the mandatory death penalty, that is, the imposition of the death penalty upon conviction for a crime, without an opportunity for presenting and considering mitigating circumstances in the sentencing process, contravenes the American Convention on Human Rights (the "American Convention") and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man ("the American Declaration").  

In the Case of Hilaire, Constantine and Benjamin et al. v. Trinidad and Tobago, the Inter-American Court found that the Offences Against the Person Act of 1925 prevents the judge from considering the basic circumstances in establishing the degree of culpability and individualizing the sentence since it compels the indiscriminate imposition of the same punishment for conduct that can be vastly different. In the instant case, the mandatory death penalty set forth in the Offences Against the Person Act was applied to Messrs. Dial and Dottin in February 1997, while the American Convention was in force. In its Report on the Merits the Commission further noted that Trinidad and Tobago still retains the mandatory death penalty.

The Commission reaffirmed that imposing a mandatory penalty of death for all crimes of murder contravenes the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of the right to life recognized in Article 4(1) of the Convention, as it fails to individualize the sentence in conformity with the characteristics of the crime, as well as the participation and degree of culpability of the accused, according to Article 4(2) of the same instrument.

The Commission concluded that the State of Trinidad and Tobago, by denying an individualized sentencing and the opportunity to present mitigating evidence, violated the victims' rights under Articles 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2, 8.1 and 25 of the American Convention, in relation to Articles 1.1 and 2. Further, given that the imposition of the mandatory death penalty continued after the entry into force of the denunciation of the American Convention, and until August 15, 2008, when the sentences of death were commuted to life imprisonment, the State has also violated Articles I, XVIII and XXVI of the American Declaration.

The IACHR further noted that important doubts existed about the gun used in the killing. It noted in this regard that the Privy Council made further observations on discrepancies, specific to ballistics evidence, and noted that where defence counsel attempted to address the matter, it was without effect. The Commission concluded that the lack of a serious analysis of the inconsistencies in the evidence constitutes a violation of the right of Messrs. Dial and Dottin to due process, particularly, regarding the right to provide a reasoned judgment and the principle of presumption of innocence. It also concluded that the lack of an effective remedy regarding those inconsistencies violated the right to judicial protection. The Commission further found that the State failed to try the victims within a reasonable time.

The Commission also concluded that, during five or six years, Messrs. Dial and Dottin remained on death row despite the existence of jurisprudence that allowed them to have their sentences commuted, and therefore benefit from rehabilitation programs. Trinidad and Tobago thus failed to guarantee that the victims could effectively exercise their right to have their death sentence commuted. Given that these facts took place after the entry into force of the denunciation of the American Convention by Trinidad and Tobago, the Commission found that they constituted a violation of the victims' rights to due process and judicial protection under the American Declaration.

The IACHR further concluded that Messrs. Dial and Dottin's deprivation of liberty on death row for nearly 11 years, as well as the inhumane prison conditions, constituted a violation of the right to humane treatment, and not to receive cruel, infamous, or unusual punishment.

Based on these considerations, the Commission found that Trinidad and Tobago is responsible for the violation of Articles 4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 5.1, 5.2, 7.5, 8.1, 8.2 and 25.1 of the American Convention, in relation to its obligations established in Articles 1.1 and 2, and Articles I (life), XI (health and wellbeing), XVIII (fair trial), XXV (protection from arbitrary arrest) and XXVI (due process of law) of the American Declaration.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State:

  1. Grant Kevin Dial and Andrew Dottin effective relief, including the review of their trials and sentences in accordance with the guarantees of a fair trial and due process set forth in Articles XVIII and XXVI of the American Declaration, and the payment of pecuniary compensation.
  2. Review its laws, procedures, and practices to ensure that persons accused of capital crimes are tried within a reasonable time after their arrest and, if convicted, sentenced in accordance with the rights established in the American Declaration, including Articles specific to a fair trial, due process, and humane treatment during custody.
  3. Ensure that prisons conditions are compatible with international human rights standards in accordance with the right of protection against cruel, infamous, or unusual punishment.
  4. Given the violations of the American Declaration and the American Convention, the Inter-American Commission also recommends to Trinidad and Tobago that it abolishes the death penalty, including the mandatory death penalty.

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

No. 166/21

11:45 AM