Jamaica ― Human Rights Committee ― Death Penalty ― Sept. 2011

The Advocates for Human Rights in collaboration with The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty has submitted a shadow report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee regarding Jamaica’s compliance with its international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the “ICCPR”). The shadow report shows how the living conditions on Jamaica’s death row violate Article 7 of the ICCPR, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. Such conditions include overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate medical treatment. The Advocates’ report is particularly important in light of Jamaica’s 2011 Constitutional amendment curtailing death row inmates’ rights to review of their conditions by external bodies, such as UN treaty bodies.

Since 2003, case law and legislation eliminated the mandatory death penalty for murder convictions and required that a death sentence must be commuted to life imprisonment if the inmate has been on death row for more than five years. As a result, there are now just eight persons on death row. However, as the report discusses, recent constitutional amendments have eroded earlier legal reforms. Such amendments include a new charter stating that the execution of a death sentence does not violate the constitution by reason of the length of time the inmate is on death row.

The recommendations urge Jamaica to:

  • Abolish the death penalty and commute the sentence of each person on death row to life imprisonment;
  • In lieu of abolishing the death penalty, reinstitute the ruling from Pratt and Morgan v. The Attorney General of Jamaica requiring the State to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment for any person on death row for greater than five years;
  • Repeal the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act, 2011 that provide that the constitution is not violated regardless of the length of time an inmate is on death row;
  • Repeal the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Act, 2011 that bar any human rights challenges based upon the conditions of confinement on death row;
  • Repeal the provisions of the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2011 requiring that all applications to or consultations with external bodies on behalf of the condemned inmate must be commenced and concluded within 18 months of notice of execution;
  • Repeal the provisions of the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2011 allowing the Governor General, in issuing the notice of execution, to refuse to consider the period of time within which any external body is likely to issue a report on behalf of the inmate;
  • Repeal the provisions of the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2011 allowing the Governor General to refuse to consider any report from an external review body not received by the Governor General within the 18-month period;
  • Eliminate the death row conditions that have been identified as comprising cruel or inhuman treatment; and
  • Take measures to ensure that death row conditions respect international standards and principles on the treatment of prisoners. 

The report was drafted by volunteer Julie Boehmke of Gray Plant Mooty