Rights abused in Caribbean

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The Independent Online
CARIBBEAN COUNTRIES are so committed to capital punishment that they are prepared to withdraw from international agreements, a senior Labour MP said yesterday.

During a short debate, Gerald Kaufman said some Commonwealth states in the West Indies were distancing themselves from international agreements which protect human rights in order to bring back hanging. Mr Kaufman said: "Some of these countries are so keen to carry out hangings, that they are revoking international agreements in order to do so." Yet the same countries were "hypocritically" signing up to Commonwealth human rights communiques.

Mr Kaufman then called for a review of the aid programme to Caribbean countries which still impose the death penalty.

Labour's Chris Mullin, who spoke in support of Mr Kaufman, said the idea that Britain should not get involved because these countries were sovereign states was nonsense. "We have got the sovereign right not to provide them with aid, trade preference and debt relief while they do things like this," he said.

More than 300 prisoners are currently under sentence of death in Caribbean Commonwealth states, but most are not entitled to legal aid for democratic or human rights challenges. Many live on "death row" in the most "appalling" conditions, suffering abuse from staff, Mr Mullin said.

"We are not simply dealing here with a zeal to hang, obnoxious though that is, we are dealing with deliberate violations of human rights and the rule of law," said Mr Kaufman. His allegations follow the hanging of nine people in Trinidad and Tobago earlier this month - the firstsince 1994. Jamaica is understood to be keen to follow suit. Mr Kaufman said he saw "unspeakable" conditions during a visit to prisons Jamaica.

The Privy Council, of which Mr Kaufman is a member, is the final court of appeal in former Commonwealth countries of the Caribbean.