04 April, 2010


The British abolished the death penalty without our consent!  Some persons express themselves to be very bitter about the way that they perceive that the death penalty was abolished in the British Overseas Territories in the West Indies.  They say that it was an arbitrary exercise of power by the British Government over us.  They protest that it was a dictatorial step taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and which was contrary to the wishes of the people.  They say it was an imposition on us, which was made without our knowledge or consent. From what I have been told, it would appear that nothing could be further from the truth.
First, some background.  The British Government, it is true, is bound both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations and by the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Convention is a constitutional document binding all members of the European Union.  Under the Convention, it is illegal for a member government to execute any person for any offence.  The reason for this general aversion to the death penalty is buried in the psyche and subconscious of the Europeans.  They have had such a blood-soaked and murderous past, stretching over 3,000 years of written history, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of years before writing was invented, that they have developed an instinctive aversion to the death penalty.  It may seem curious to some of us, but they consider the death penalty barbarous and uncivilised.  They cannot help having this feeling.  It is now part of their DNA, so to say. 
The guilt the Europeans feel for their 10,000-year recent history of war; massacre; burnings of religious heretics at the stake; pogroms against the Jews; drownings of witches; hanging, drawing and quartering of rebels; keel-hauling of mutineers; death by exposure while hanging in irons for bandits; the euthanasia of mentally retarded children; the elimination of Gypsies and other "subnormals"; religious wars; tribal wars; national wars; ethnic cleansings; the Holocaust; war upon war; not to mention the thousands of innocent persons who have been wrongfully convicted of capital offences, and executed, only to be proven innocent after they have been executed, have induced such an instinctive revulsion at the death penalty, that the Europeans will not countenance in their midst any country that retains the death penalty.  Their partners in the European Union hold Britain responsible for any outrages against their conscience that take place in the British Overseas Territories by the application of the death penalty.  It is undoubtedly true that, during the decades of the 1970’s and the 1980’s, the British were under intense international pressure to force us in the Overseas Territories to get rid of hanging.
       The death penalty has always been popular in the Americas, including the West Indies.  It satisfies the very human need to implement the Biblical injunction of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”  During the decade of the 1980s, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office repeatedly pressured the governments of the Overseas Territories to abolish hanging.  They were tired of being harangued and abused by their European colleagues at international conferences on human rights.  The British Government met stiff resistance to their urgings that we abolish the death penalty.
       The West Indian governments of the Overseas Territories, though at first loath to give in to the pleadings of the British Government, eventually saw the point.  By the end of the decade they were expressing themselves no longer opposed to the abolition of the death penalty.  But, they did not want to be the ones to introduce the idea into the parliaments of the West Indies.  They knew that the suggestion of abolishing hanging would meet with universal opposition.  Their governments would become so unpopular that they would almost certainly be defeated at the next polls. 
A solution was worked out.  The Premiers and Chief Ministers of the British Overseas Territories in the West Indies, at one of their annual conferences in London, put the solution to the FCO.  The suggestion was made that it would be much cleaner, and cause many fewer problems for the local governments, if the British Government would do it for them.  So, the British were encouraged by our governments to pass the necessary Order in Council that abolished the death penalty.  As promised, none of our governments objected.  It was done quietly and peacefully.  Hardly anyone noticed.  The British need to have their name cleared of the charge of permitting state-sponsored killings in their Overseas Territories was satisfied.  The West Indian governments need to stay clear of any suggestion that they were soft on crime by proposing the abolition of hanging was met.  Everyone was happy. 
       And, so we can say that in Anguilla, the death penalty has been abolished since the year 1991.  The right to life is absolute.  Well, nearly absolute.
       It is still lawful for one of us to take the life of another in using reasonable force for the defence of person or property.  This is the defence of self-defence.  If a violent person is attempting to evade arrest, or to escape from prison, and he is shot in the process of effecting that arrest or preventing that escape, that would be a lawful killing.  In the unlikely event of a riot, insurrection, or mutiny, if a lawful order is given to fire on the rioters, any deaths will not be in breach of the constitutional protection of the right to life.  And, finally, in the event that Anguillians are involved in a lawful war, our soldiers firing on an enemy as a result of orders to do so, will not be in breach of the provision.  Killing in pursuance of a lawful war is no murder.
       But, generally, when it comes to the death penalty for murder, it is safe to say that it has been completely abolished in Anguilla.  The protection of the right to life in Anguilla is sacrosanct.


  1. Greetings from Jersey in the Channel Islands, where we read your blog and other Carribean blogs that seeks democratic reforms.

    Jersey also had hanging but ablolished it after pressure from the British government forced the local elites sometime in the early 90's (can't find the precise date in Google). There was a lot of wringing of hands, but eventually they did what they were told, in order not to embarass the British Government any more.

    In addition the Human Rights (Jersey) Law 2000 enshrines the principle of abolition of the death penalty in domestic law.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. A fine, thorough going treatment of the question indeed. Congrats!

  3. There's a thing called the "demographic transition": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition .

    When life expectancy gets long enough, life becomes dear instead of cheap. All the after-the-fact whinging about guilt, &c., is just that. Physics causes finance, which causes common law, then politics and finally philosophy, -- ethics, in this case. :-). Comedy being the lowest form of philosophy, George Carlin talked all the time about the "pussification" of American culture, for instance.

    There's one guy http://www.amazon.com/Farewell-Alms-Economic-History-Princeton/dp/0691121354 who talks about this pretty well, but there are many others who have done so for quite a while now. There's another guy who says that "western" civilization cannot even be called "western" anymore because life has become so dear: http://mercatus.org/video/locating-ourselves-historically-why-we-are-not-living-western-civilization?utm_source=Social+Change+Project&utm_campaign=d0e62e3ed0-Davies+Social+Change+Video&utm_medium=email

    Of course, I tend to think like this guy, instead, and haven't written off Western Civilization, including the death penalty, just yet: http://www.amazon.com/Carnage-Culture-Landmark-Battles-Western/dp/0385500521

    By way of illustration how modern western culture is still red in tooth and claw, I like point to its repression of free markets and the right to self determination and self defense: National health and the nanny state, including environmentalism, have killed more people (50 million, mostly children, from African malaria alone since the, heh, abolition, of DDT) than the death penalty ever has. And the death toll is going to get worse before it gets better.

  4. Don, I am very glad that "the protection of the right to life in Anguilla is sacrosanct". That is exactly how it should be.


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