Trinidad and Tobago: The Imminent Execution of a Battered Woman's Defenders

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1 Jul 2000

Pamela RamjattanOn May 29, 1995, Indravani (Pamela) Ramjattan, Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hilaire were convicted of the murder of Ramjattan's husband, Alexander Jordan, and were sentenced to death by the Trinidad and Tobago Courts. Jordan's death marked an end to the savage beatings and brutal rapes endured by Pamela since the age of 17, when she had been sent to live with him against her will. Every time she 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, Jordan dragged her back home and beat her with a piece of wood until she was unconscious. He lined the children up against the wall and asked them, one by one, if he should kill their mother. One week after this incident, forcibly confined to the house, Pamela sent a message to Denny Baptiste and his friend Haniff Hilaire, asking them to come and rescue her. They did, and one of the men killed Alexander Jordan in the house on February 12, 1991.

At the trials of all three defendants, 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. In Trinidad and Tobago, the death penalty is mandatory for the crime of murder. Equality Now opposes the death penalty in all circumstances but finds it particularly troubling that in this case no consideration was given to the mitigating circumstances of the crime. In a number of cases, men who have battered women to death have been sentenced to prison terms on the lesser charge of manslaughter, which also raises concerns about inequity in the judicial system.

In November 1996, the convictions of Pamela Ramjattan, Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hilaire were upheld by the Court of Appeal in Trinidad and Tobago. 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." New evidence indicating that Pamela suffered from Battered Woman's Syndrome was subsequently obtained from an internationally known expert on this condition and its devastating effects. Her lawyers again applied to the Privy Council to grant Pamela leave to appeal her conviction, based on the psychiatrist's findings. On February 3, 1999, the Privy Council granted leave to appeal and sent the case back to the Trinidad and Tobago Court of Appeal with a recommendation to consider the new evidence. On October 7, 1999, in a landmark decision, the Court of Appeal overturned Pamela Ramjattan's murder conviction and imposed a reduced conviction for manslaughter. She was sentenced to an additional five years in prison.

However, the situation for Denny Baptise and Haniff Hilaire remains dire. Death warrants were read in 1998 for both men, paving the way for their executions. Both men filed separate applications with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing that the mandatory death penalty breaches the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life and citing the inability of the court to consider mitigating circumstances in sentencing. The Commission referred the applications to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, on May 25, 1999 in the case of Haniff Hilaire and on February 22, 2000 in the case of Denny Baptiste. The applications of both men are still pending before the Court. The Privy Council has ruled that no steps may be taken to execute an individual while he or she has a case pending before an international human rights body. In light of this ruling, the government should not be able to execute Denny Baptiste or Haniff Hilaire.

The Court still has to rule on the admissibility of the cases. Haniff Hilaire's case is scheduled for August 10, 2000; Denny Baptiste's has not been scheduled yet. If the government of Trinidad & Tobago successfully argues that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has no jurisdiction in these cases, then it is likely that the government will execute both Haniff Hilaire and Denny Baptiste. Even if the Inter-American Court of Human Rights rules favorably in both cases, the government of Trinidad & Tobago has formally denounced the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court and may decide to proceed with the executions, despite the ruling.

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 Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hilaire. Note the background of domestic violence in this case and that Ramjattan's sentence was overturned and reduced on appeal, based on this evidence. Note that Mr. Baptiste and Mr. Hilaire were attempting to rescue her from her husband's violence and that this fact should have been considered in their trials and sentencing. Cite the fundamental right to equal protection of the law, as well as the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is important that action be taken on an urgent basis, as the government of Trinidad and Tobago could execute these men at any time. You may also want to urge the authorities to reduce Ramjattan's sentence to time served, as she has already spent eight years in prison, four and a half of them on death row. In addition to the authorities listed below, contact your own governments and request their urgent intervention to save the lives of Denny Baptiste and Haniff Hilaire. 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) 627-4285

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) 625-6530

Those of you who would like to make a contribution to "The Ramjattan Family Appeal" can send checks or money orders made out to "The Ramjattan Family Appeal," c/o Joanne Cross, Herbert Smith Solicitors, Exchange House, Primrose Street, London EC2A 2HS, United Kingdom. All funds raised will go towards a house for Pamela and her children as well as clothes, furniture, school books.