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Judicial CP - June 1999

Bermuda Sun, Hamilton, 23 June 1999

Human Rights group wants death penalty scrapped

By Nigel Regan

THE HUMAN Rights Commission is urging government to accept Britain's demand for the abolition of the death penalty.

Following a four-hour meeting on Saturday, commission members unanimously agreed the penalty of death by execution along with judicial corporal punishment should be formally removed from Bermuda's statute. It also said a review of Bermuda law in respect to international human rights should be carried out immediately.

The official announcement, made exclusively to the Sun yesterday, comes in response to the U.K. White Paper published in March.

The paper gives overseas territories the option of renewing their contracts with the U.K. but only if they abide with certain regulations. For Bermuda this would have to include abolition of the death penalty and judicial corporal punishment.

A statement released by the commission yesterday read: "To bring Bermuda law into compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Human Rights Commission calls upon the Bermuda Government to introduce a Bill to the House of Assembly for the amendments to the Criminal Code necessary for the abolition of judicial corporal punishment and the abolition of the death penalty."

Additionally it states: "The Human Rights Commission notes that a review of Bermuda law that ensures compliance with all international human rights instruments has not been done; and the commission urges the Government to immediately cause a review to be conducted."

Reverend Goodwin Smith, the commission's chairman, said yesterday: "In the process of discussing the [human rights issue within the] White Paper on Saturday there was really no opposition. The commission goes along with the whole deal."

He said as far as he was aware the majority of Bermudians are in favour of abolition although he was equally aware others may be vocal in their opposition. "There are some Bermudians who would like to see some things kept on the statute - they feel as long as it's there it may deter somebody, so in those terms, they like to see it."

However, he added, when it comes down to it, Bermuda has little choice but to abide with international human rights law and that the White Paper, while appearing to point a "gun against Bermuda's head", was in fact just moving the inevitable change forward, faster.

The only other concern the U.K. has in terms of human rights is that overseas territories must "repeal criminal sanctions against homosexual conduct between consenting males in private". Rev Smith, who said he has been given unfair coverage when it comes to gay rights, said he was "glad" Bermuda has already dealt with that issue.

"I was against the Bill that was introduced but that's history, it's a case that's closed," he said.

He added that while he was aware the HRC's stance could be seen as strong evidence in favour of Bermuda renewing its contract with the U.K., the HRC was only responding to the human rights issue.

Larry Tacklyn and Buck Burrows were the last people to be executed in Bermuda for murder in 1977. The double hanging sparked civil unrest and led to British troops being called in to restore order.

blob Follow-up: 20 December 1999 - MPs vote to abolish

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Colin Farrell
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