08 June, 2010


Freedom from inhuman treatment:  We are looking at our fundamental rights under the 1982 Anguilla ConstitutionThe fifth of these rights is the right to be protected from inhuman treatment.
You may well think that this is a pretty obvious human right.  No one in the West Indies today can be put to the rack for their religion or to collect a confession.  It is generally accepted today that torture is an unreliable means of obtaining useful information.  However, torture has throughout history been used as a means of terrorising populations or specific communities.  
 Franz Fanon, in “Les Damnees de la Terre”, reports that the French in Algeria used ‘preventative torture’ on entirely innocent people to stop them doing anything in the future.  Although claiming to use torture in order to save lives, the French colonial regime killed between 1-1.5 million Algerians in the process.   
The Red Cross has estimated that 80% of detainees held by US Army forces at Abu Ghraib in Iraq were the ‘wrong people’.  Yet, the US Army in recent years with approval from the highest levels has approved torture of these detainees in support of the ‘war on terror’.
Besides these obvious examples of illegal torture, there are some West Indian nuances that you may find interesting.  A few years ago, two murderers in Jamaica, Pratt and Morgan, took the government to court.  They had been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.  They had appealed their sentence to the Jamaican Court of Appeal, and lost.  They appealed to the Privy Council and lost.  They now appealed to the Inter-American Court of Human RightsJamaica was a signatory to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Agreement.  The prisoners had meanwhile spent nearly fourteen years on death row, waiting to be executed.  Of course, they had been filing appeal after appeal, which had resulted in the long delay in the carrying out of the sentence. 
They filed a case in the High Court claiming that the delay in government hanging them had subjected them to many years of dread and fear that amounted to cruel and inhuman punishment.  Note, they were not saying that the death penalty was cruel and inhuman punishment.  Their claim was that the long delay in carrying out the sentence, the long wait on death row, was what was cruel and inhuman. 
The High Court in Jamaica laughed at the convicts and threw out the case.  They appealed to the Court of Appeal, and lost.  The case reached right up to the Privy Council in London.  They succeeded in having the Privy Council hold that their sentence amounted to cruel and inhuman punishment.  The Privy Council ruled that if the government cannot for any reason execute a murderer within five years of his conviction, then the sentence must be commuted to life imprisonment.  This ruling applies to all Commonwealth countries in the West Indies and elsewhere.  To keep someone on death row for longer than that period of time, the court ruled, will constitute cruel and inhuman treatment.  That is now the law throughout the West Indies.  It is not very relevant to us in Anguilla, since the penalty of hanging for murder in Anguilla was long ago abolished.  The only penalty for murder now in Anguilla is life imprisonment. 
Still, you may agree that it is useful to have a Supreme Court looking out for instances of cruel and inhuman treatment.


  1. Discipline of any sort is always subjective to non-disciplined party, and always too harsh to the one being disciplined. I suspect the victims families of the Aruban van der Sloot, would judge his disciplinary treatment not as torture; by what ever the means of extraction was used to obtain the confession or the conditions which await him in the Lurigancho prison. For that matter, were we to walk a mile in their shoes, could we honestly say otherwise? Yet we can and freely make judgments on the harshness of discipline meted out by others. As they say “one mans terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” and “one mans torturer is another’s information extractor”.

    “Cruel and inhuman punishment” now there is a phrase invented by an enlighten society. Many things taken in isolation seem right and fair, but when applied liberally in varying situations, fall short of the mark. For speeding infractions, surely we can agree 14 yrs on death row is a bit over the top and would fit as Cruel and inhuman punishment. But as society grows ever more depraved and the B&W lines between right and wrong just become shades of grey; eventually everything becomes Cruel and inhuman punishment, if you’re the one being disciplined. However, if we take another mile stroll in the shoes of the victim’s families again, they are the ones receiving the Cruel and inhuman punishment for being denied justice for 14 yrs. It’s the same for society, having to bear the cost of that charade under the delusion of humane treatment.

    If a rotwiller mauled a person to death, would it live out the week? Would we try to retrain its mind to be kinder and then release it to see if we were successful? Would we put it in a cage for 14 yrs because we are too indecisive to deal with the problem? Why would we handle these situations differently? If we dealt with them in the same swift manner, perhaps society would then place its conduct on a shorter leash and would shape up.

    Torture against ones own citizenry should (except in extreme cases) not be tolerated as its use can lead to abuses. But to reject its use out of hand is to live in a fantasy land, in which the world is still flat and if we sail beyond the horizon sea dragons will eat us, "hic sunt dracones" beware.

  2. It’s interesting to note that the US Supreme Court seems to have no such scruples as the UK Privy Council does with its automatic reprieve after five years. In 2008 Jack Alderman was executed in Georgia after having spent more than 33 years on Death Row. That’s effectively a life sentence followed by a death sentence, both carried out, a punishment almost bizarre in its cruelty.

  3. The below link leaves little to wonder why they did not step in when the layers are pealed back.


    Along with an accomplice, Alderman beat his wife Barbara Alderman with a crescent wrench, then choked her and put her under water in a bathtub to be sure she was dead. The men then visited two Savannah bars before dumping her body in a creek near her family’s home in Rincon. The motive for the murder was life insurance money from a policy supplied by her employer, the City of Savannah. After 33 years, Alderman was believed to be the country's longest-serving death row inmate. His conviction and death sentence was overturned by a federal appeals court, but was reinstated after a second trial in 1984. Accomplice, John Arthur Brown, who testified against Alderman at trial, was originally sentenced to life, but was paroled in 1987 and committed suicide in 2000 when police tried to arrest him on child molestation charges.


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