12 February 2005
The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights dealing with extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions stated today that he had submitted an urgent appeal to the Government of Barbados not to proceed with the execution of Frederick Atkins, scheduled to take place on Monday, 14 February 2005.
Philip Alston, a law professor at New York University, said that the execution of Mr Atkins would be in violation of the international legal obligations of Barbados. “For the past twenty years Barbados has not executed any condemned prisoner. There are several reasons why this is not the right context in which to usher in a policy sea change”, said Professor Alston. “The first is that the case has yet to be heard by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Government of Barbados has affirmed in the past its commitment to respect the right of those sentenced to death to petition that body. It is thus essential to await the outcome of that process”.
The second reason is even more compelling, according to Professor Alston. “When the Privy Council agreed last year that the death penalty was consistent with the Constitution of Barbados, and thus in principle valid, it went out of its way to highlight the fact that a mandatory death penalty is clearly in violation of international law”, he said. “The reason is that such rigidity makes it impossible to take into account any mitigating or extenuating circumstances and eliminates any individual determination of an appropriate sentence. It is my understanding that this is the law under which Frederick Atkins has been sentenced.”
The Special Rapporteur observed that four of the Privy Council Law Lords had endorsed the statement that “No international human rights tribunal anywhere in the world has ever found a mandatory death penalty regime compatible with international human rights norms.”
As a result, the execution of Mr Atkins on the basis of a mandatory death sentence provision would constitute a failure by Barbados to comply with its obligations under international law. It would thus amount to an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution.