Trinidad and Tobago: The Imminent Execution of A Battered Woman and Her Defenders

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1 Oct 1998

When she was 17 years old, Indravani Pamela Ramjattan, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, was sent against her will by her parents to live with Alexander Jordan. From the beginning her new husband was extremely violent. He beat her, he raped her, and he threatened to shoot her. Every time Pamela tried to run away, Alexander Jordan found her and forced her to return. He had friends among the local police who visited him at his home and saw Pamela with bruises but did nothing. Pamela began a relationship with Denny Baptiste, a childhood friend of hers who tried to help her escape the violence. The last time she escaped, with two of her children, Alexander Jordan dragged her back home and on arrival, beat her with a piece of wood until she was unconscious. Later he lined the children up against the wall and asked them, one by one, whether he should kill their mother. They begged him not to. One week after this incident, forcibly confined to the house, Pamela sent a message to Denny Baptiste and his friend Haniff Hillaire, asking them to come and rescue her. They did, and one of the men killed Alexander Jordan in the house on 12 February 1991.

Indravani Pamela Ramjattan, Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hillaire are now all awaiting execution for murder. On 13 February 1991, Pamela was arrested in a confused and disoriented state. She was 28 years old at the time. Without access to a lawyer, she signed a statement on the promise that she would be allowed to return home to her children. She was pregnant at the time. Rather than release her, the authorities charged Pamela Ramjattan with the murder of Alexander Jordan. On 10 March 1991, Pamela delivered her baby in her prison cell, prematurely and with little medical assistance. She was eventually taken to the hospital, but her baby died soon after arrival. Pamela was held in prison for a year without access to legal counsel. She was held in prison for more than four years before being brought to trial with Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hillaire. During the trial, her lawyer did not present the issue of domestic violence in her defense. Rather the issue was presented by the prosecution as evidence of a motive for killing Alexander Jordan. On 29 May 1995, all three defendants were convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

No legal consideration was given by the judicial system in Trinidad and Tobago to the severe and continual violence inflicted by Alexander Jordan on Pamela Ramjattan, which eventually led to his killing. Neither the defense of provocation nor the argument of self-defense was made at trial, forcing the jury to choose between acquittal and the death penalty, without any opportunity to consider the mitigating circumstances of the case and deliver a lesser sentence. In Trinidad and Tobago, the death penalty is mandatory for the crime of murder. Nevertheless, in a number of recent cases in the country, men who battered women to death have been treated with lenience by the judicial system. Don Renaud, a former police officer, was sentenced to ten years for killing his fiancée; Hollis Maloney was sentenced to twelve years for killing his wife, who was eight months pregnant at the time; Winston Joseph was sentenced to five years for strangling his wife to death when she was six months pregnant; Christopher Sinju was sentenced to five years for killing his wife and attempting to drown his two children.

Indravani Pamela Ramjattan, Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hillaire are all facing imminent execution. In November 1996, their convictions and sentences were confirmed by the Court of Appeal. In November 1997, the Privy Council in London, the highest court of appeal for cases from Trinidad and Tobago, refused leave to appeal, even though one of its judges described the abuse of Pamela Ramjattan as "harrowing" and recognized that Alexander Jordan had "beaten her up mercilessly" and subjected her to a "sustained reign of terror." An appeal on behalf of Pamela Ramjattan has been filed and is pending with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. Death warrants for Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hillaire have already been read.

Trinidad and Tobago, like a number of countries in the Caribbean which endorse the death penalty, is determined to accelerate executions. Equality Now considers it a travesty of justice that Pamela Ramjattan, Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hillaire have been legally declared no longer deserving of life. Their crime is the desperate rescue of Pamela from the brutal violence inflicted on her and her children by her husband, violence which Pamela should never have been forced to endure without avenues of effective recourse. The execution of Pamela Ramjattan, Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hillaire will perpetuate the cycle of violence and leave children who have already begged for the life of their mother as orphans. The message from the state through these executions will be that while husbands who kill their wives can expect mercy, wives who take action to save themselves from being killed by their husbands, and those who intervene to help them, will be hanged.

What You Can Do: 

Please send urgent appeals directly to the President, the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Minister of National Security, calling for clemency on behalf of Pamela Ramjattan, Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hillaire. Note the background of domestic violence in this case and the failure of the legal system to even consider these mitigating circumstances. Note the many cases in which husbands who battered their wives to death are serving prison sentences, suggesting that the state treats those who kill in the course of inflicting domestic violence with much greater lenience than those who kill in the course of trying to stop domestic violence. Cite the fundamental human right to equal protection of the law, as well as the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition to the authorities listed below, contact your own governments and request their urgent intervention in this case. Please also bring the case to the attention of the media.

The President
The Hon.Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson
Circular Road, St. Ann's
Port of Spain
Trinidad and Tobago
Tel: (868) 624-1261/64
Fax: (868) 625-7950

The Prime Minister
The Hon. Basdeo Panday
Level 15, Central Bank Towers
Eric Williams Plaza, Independence Square
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Tel: (868) 623-3653/5
Fax: (868) 627-3444

The Minister for National Security
Senator Brigadier The Hon. Joseph Theodore
Knox Street, Port of Spain
Trinidad and Tobago
Tel: (868) 623-2441/5
Fax: (868) 627-8044

The Attorney General
The Hon. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj
Winsure Building
24-28 Richmond Street, Port of Spain
Trinidad and Tobago
Tel: (868) 623-2010/625-8901/623-4873
Fax: (868) 624-3109