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www.corpun.com   :  Archive   :  1997   :  TT Judicial Feb 1997

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TRINIDAD (and Caribbean in general)

Judicial CP - February 1997



Charlotte Observer, N. Carolina, USA, 17 February 1997

Caribbean islands try flogging to deter crime

Rights groups object; U.S. takes no stand

By Shelley Emling, Cox News Service

After a long absence, judges have revived the use of floggings with the cat-o'-nine-tails, a bleak reminder of the legacy of slavery across much of the English-speaking Caribbean.

Governments in many Caribbean countries unofficially stopped hangings and floggings in the 1980s in response to protests from international human rights organizations. But judges have started to impose the punishments again in recent years, seeing them as a deterrent to rising crime.

"This place has become a miniature New York City," said Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, one of Trinidad's largest Hindu organizations. "There has to be a way to stop all this violence."

Trinidad has experienced a wave of violent crimes, 70 percent of which are drug related.

Crime in Jamaica is at an all-time high, with a record 918 murders committed in 1996. Crime rates shot up 23 percent in the U.S. Virgin Islands between 1995 and 1996. Drug-related violence has rocked both of the sleepy twin-island federations of St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago.

In response, Antigua and Barbuda reinstated floggings in 1990, and the Bahamas followed suit in 1991. Floggings were revived in Barbados and Trinidad in 1993 and in Jamaica a year later.

Cruel and unusual

Human rights campaigners have criticized the decisions.

"We believe flogging constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment," said Carlos Salinas, Amnesty International's government program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean. "It goes against every international standard on human rights."

Floggings usually are performed with the cat-o'-nine-tails, which consists of nine knotted cords attached to a handle designed to tear an offender's back to shreds. When flogged, naked prisoners are generally handcuffed and placed face down on a bench. Normally only prison officials and a doctor are present.

Flogging generally receives scant attention in the United States - unless an American citizen is involved. For example, American teen-ager Michael Fay made headlines in March 1994 when he was sentenced by a Singapore judge to six strokes with a cane for vandalizing cars.

Only rarely do floggings in the Caribbean provoke even a fraction of this kind of response.

In its annual human rights report issued recently, the State Department mentioned without comment the reintroduction of flogging in Trinidad and Tobago and of corporal punishment in the Bahamas. It made no mention of the practice in its sections on Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda.

"We don't take a stand, rather the document just tries to report the facts, nothing more," said Yehudah Mirsky, public affairs officer for the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Mirsky expressed surprise that flogging had been reinstated in several Caribbean countries.

"If this is true, it would be a matter of concern," he said. "If it is something violating international standards, then it should be an issue that people should raise and be aware of."

Woman, boy flogged

In 1993, a court-ordered flogging of an 11-year-old boy found with cocaine prompted cries of child abuse among residents of Trinidad, where the law allows children to be punished with up to six strokes with the tails.

More recently, Justice Lennox Deyalsingh created a stir by ordering the first-ever flogging of a woman.

Businesswoman Myra Bhagwansingh, a mother of four, was sentenced last year to receive 10 strokes with the tails as part of her punishment for throwing acid on a business associate. She's since appealed the sentence.

Her lawyers have argued that, under the law, this punishment is designed only for the "male" offender.

"While many people are happy to see criminals flogged, everyone has been united in their opposition to a woman being flogged, so I don't believe it will happen," said Roberta Clarke, an attorney with the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action.

This group has demanded an end to both hangings and floggings.

"This is something we'd like to see done away with for all people, men included," Clarke said. "But the problem is that people are demanding a law-and-order response to crime."



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