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Poverty and justice: a deadly mix

Published: 
Sunday, October 8, 2017

For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice. (Pope Francis)

On Tuesday, October 10, the world will observe the 15th World Day Against the Death Penalty. The theme this year is: Poverty and Justice: a deadly mix. It “aims at raising awareness about the reasons why people living in poverty are at a greater risk of being sentenced to death and executed.”

Capital punishment remains in the legal system of 11 English-speaking countries in the region – of which two countries retain the mandatory death penalty for murder (T&T and Barbados). Although the last hanging took place in St Kitts in 2008 and few death sentences have been handed down in the region since then, these countries have consistently voted against the UN resolutions on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and have signed the Note Verbale, dissociating them from the moratorium. It is to be noted that recent international studies and research show that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent, nor does it foster respect for life in our communities.

The World Coalition against the Death Penalty (WCADP) states: “Since the 1980s, there has been a global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty, a trend which continues to this day. According to Amnesty International, 16 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes in 1977. Today, two-thirds of all countries (141) are now abolitionist in law or in practice.

“However, the application of the death penalty is inextricably linked to poverty. Social and economic inequalities affect access to justice for those who are sentenced to death for several reasons: defendants may lack resources (social and economic, but also political power) to defend themselves and will in some cases be discriminated against because of their social status…

“In the United States, in 2017, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, 95% of people on death row have disadvantaged economic backgrounds…a defendant who does not have the financial capacity to hire a private lawyer will have to rely on the free legal aid provided by the government. Such attorneys, however, are often underpaid and unprepared for death penalty cases…Poverty is not solely an economic issue, but rather a multidimensional phenomenon that encompasses a lack of both income and the basic capabilities to live in dignity.” See: http://www.worldcoalition.org/media/resourcecenter/EN_2017WorldDayLeafle... for 10 reasons why the death penalty is used discriminatorily, and often against the poor and should be abolished.

The Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference stated in their 2016 Pastoral Letter: Human Life is Gift from God: “We wish to affirm the Church’s teaching in regard to the inherent dignity of every human being. As such, every effort must be made to protect and preserve the sanctity of life… We believe that the protection of society and the common good are assured by a proper functioning justice system that detects and convicts and by a prison system that focuses on rehabilitation…

“We urge our Governments to strengthen the capacity of public institutions, including criminal justice systems, to address crime and violence; to address the risk factors that contribute to crime, for example: poverty, urban decay, social inequality and exclusion, family disintegration, poor parenting, lack of quality education and employment, poor housing, the proliferation of guns, drugs and gangs in the region, human trafficking, domestic violence, and to employ related preventive measures. We stand ready and urge our faithful and all people of good will to work together to this end…

“While we oppose the death penalty, we embrace the victims of violent crimes; those who are hurting and grieving for their loved ones who have been killed, at times in the most heinous ways. We urge each parish to establish victim support groups and seek to meet their physical, mental, spiritual, financial and other needs.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the abolition of the death penalty which, he says, “is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person… there is no humane way of killing another person. The commandment ‘thou shall not kill’ has absolute value and pertains to the innocent as well as the guilty.”

Pro-life, means pro-ALL LIFE.

Leela Ramdeen is the chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice and Chair of the Greater Caribbean for Life