The Government of Belize has presented a Bill to Parliament containing a raft of constitutional amendments designed to eliminate future legal challenges to the implementation of the death penalty.
Of particular concern are the proposed amendments to Section 7 of the Constitution, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
These amendments in short seek to immunise the imposition and carrying out of a death sentence from ever being found to be unconstitutional by the courts, regardless of extensive delay on death row, inadequate prison conditions, or the proposed method of execution.
These moves are in direct contravention of Belize’s international human rights commitments and obligations. Belize has not yet ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, but has ratified the Charter of the Organization of American States and as such is a party to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. In addition, Belize has ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture.
As such, these amendments would have the effect of reversing established and important human rights case law concerning the application of the death penalty. They also appear to pave the way for the possible re-introduction of the mandatory death penalty by removing existing constitutional protections. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has previously found mandatory death penalty regimes to be in breach of both the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Saul Lehrfreund and Parvais Jabbar, Executive Directors of the Death Penalty Project at Simons Muirhead & Burton, state:
The present proposal is based on serious misapprehensions of Belize’s international obligations. Each of the constitutional amendments is unnecessary for Belize to be able to retain and implement the death penalty. A state that takes account of human rights jurisprudence and adopts procedures compatible with its international and constitutional obligations will be free to make its own decisions about the abolition or retention of capital punishment. However, the present proposals for constitutional reform are in direct contrast with and flagrantly violate international human rights. Equally, they will shackle the Constitution and prevent the development of ethical standards in accordance with contemporary norms.
These amendments were tabled by the Government of Belize in the 8th Constitutional Amendment Bill before the House of Representatives on 13 May 2011, and may be debated and enacted as early as 13 August 2011. The Government currently has an overwhelming majority in Parliament and this is now a matter of urgent regional and international concern.
In light of the critical nature of the situation, the Death Penalty Project and the Human Rights Commission of Belize have applied as interested parties to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and requested that hearings be scheduled to enable the Commission to consider the proposed amendments and to make recommendations to the Government of Belize on the adoption of measures in favour of human rights, specifically asking them to withdraw this legislation.
Notes to Editors:
1. For further information please contact Saul Lehrfreund MBE or Parvais Jabbar, Executive Directors of the Death Penalty Project Ltd at Simons Muirhead & Burton Solicitors.
2. Alternatively, please contact Antoinette Moore and Simeon Sampson at the Human Rights Commission of Belize.