March 22, 2001 From: Shelagh Simmons

Ashby hanging an extrajudicial killing

Dear Editor,

We are astonished that former Attorney General, Keith Sobion, has been writing to the press defending Glen Ashby's 1994 execution as "lawful" when this simply does not reflect the facts.

At the very hour of Mr Ashby's hanging, an appeal against the dismissal of a constitutional motion was being heard in the Court of Appeal. As such, the appellate process was continuing and an undertaking had been given that the State would not proceed until all avenues of appeal, including to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London, had been exhausted.

Moreover, an application for a stay of execution had been made to the JCPC. It was granted and faxed to the authorities well before 7.00 am, the time appointed for execution. Yet shockingly, the hanging had taken place early and Glen Ashby was executed even as the Court of Appeal was sitting considering his case.

Furthermore, Mr Ashby had a petition pending before the (United Nations) Human Rights Committee. As such the Government of Trinidad and Tobago should have waited for the Committee's decision in accordance with its obligations under the (First) Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

With all these safeguards in place, what went wrong? Perhaps a clue lies in the fact that Glen Ashby was just days away from reaching the 5 year time limit the Privy Council had set after which death sentences should be commuted. Like the present administration, the previous Government presided over rising crime and was keen to deliver a hanging. And since the death penalty is widely used for political purposes, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that due process was sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.

After the hanging Amnesty International's Secretary General wrote to the then Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, condemning it as a "flagrant violation of both Trinidad and Tobago law and its obligations under human rights treaties".

The Human Rights Committee expressed dismay that Trinidad and Tobago had ignored its treaty obligations. In addition, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reported Glen Ashby had been hanged "while appeal procedures were still pending". He listed the case as an issue of "special concern".

And an independent panel, including Caribbean jurists, concluded Mr Ashby had been hanged illegally and that there was sufficient evidence for Keith Sobion to be cited for contempt of court. Needless to say, no action was taken.

Given these facts, maybe it is not surprising that Mr Sobion's recollection of events is somewhat hazy.

This was no "lawful" execution. It was an extrajudicial killing and another blot on Trinidad and Tobago's human rights record.

Yours faithfully,
Shelagh Simmons

Caribbean Justice
Working For The Abolition Of The Death Penalty
Patrons: Tony Benn MP Sir Ludovic Kennedy Benjamin Zephaniah
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)23 9275 6730 e-mail:

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