Caribbean islands urged to abandon death penalty

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Amnesty International has called on English-speaking Caribbean nations to abandon the death penalty.

The former British colonies are increasingly turn to hanging to curb a rise in violent crime. Many countries in the region have seen their murder rates soar, often because of drug-related turf wars.

Meanwhile, island governments are moving towards establishing their own Caribbean Court of Justice. The aim is to end a judicial relic from the colonial era, whereby the Privy Council in Britain still serves as the final court of appeal for the islands.

Sister Helen Prejean, America's foremost anti-death penalty campaigner and author of Dead Man Walking said: "We understand the anger of Caribbean citizens at the horrific murders they witness daily and we share their outrage and hope that the violence will cease."

Speaking on behalf of the human rights group Amnesty, she added: "However, the death penalty is no answer to reducing violent crime or healing society."

The controversy flared most recently in 1999, when Trinidad and Tobago executed the reputed drug lord Dole Chadee and eight of his associates over four days.

Other islands that enforce the death penalty are the Bahamas, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

All the governments are keen to sever the relationship with the Privy Council, in part because it recently ruled against the use of capital punishment.

Britain, which formally abandoned hanging in 1965, has also pressed the islands to forsake the death penalty.

Amnesty International said in its report: "Ironically, the UK, the former colonial power that introduced hanging to the region, is now viewed as 'neo-colonist' by many in the region when it attempts to encourage the abolition of capital punishment."