The Government of Belize has decided to amend the Constitution to eliminate challenges to the death penalty on constitutional grounds. This has prompted an international organization to take the government before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
Defence lawyers have been able to argue that the death penalty amounts to inhuman and degrading punishment, which is forbidden by Chapter II, Section 7 of the Belize Constitutio, because of extensive delays on death row, inadequate prison conditions and the proposed method of execution.
The proposed amendment will eliminate future constitutional challenges, and in this way clear the way for the courts to order the death penalty for certain murder convictions.
If and when the amendment goes through, men and women who have been waiting on death row for years may find themselves suddenly facing execution without further delay.
The measure is seen as necessary to curb the epidemic of murders now taking place in Belize.
The move is being opposed however by the Human Rights Commission of Belize and the Inter American Commission of Human Rights.
“These moves are in direct contravention of Belize’s International human rights and obligations,” a statement from the Belize Human Rights Commission declares.
But Belize has not yet ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, although it 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.
The Belize Human Rights Commission, states that the proposed amendments “would have the effect of reversing established 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.
These amendments were tabled by the Government of Belize in the 8th Constitutional Amendment Bill before the House of Representatives on May 13 this year.
The proposed changes in the Constitution may be debated and enacted as early as August 13, because the Government currently has an overwhelming majority in Parliament.
All indications are that the people of Belize are overwhelmingly in favour of bringing back the death penalty as a way of curbing the senseless gun violence and ride-by shootings which have overwhelmed entire communities in Belize.