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May 18, 2017

On International Museum Day, Debating the Death Penalty

The worldwide community of museums today celebrated International Museum Day, which is recognized annually on and around May eighteenth. Established in 1977 by the International Council of Museums, it is used to increase public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society. This year, the theme is, “Museum and Contested Histories: Saying the Unspeakable in Museums.” Here at the Museum of Belize old wounds were opened when in an open discussion the issue of the death penalty was discussed in great detail. News Five’s Duane Moody was there and files this report.


Duane Moody, Reporting

“Should Belize resume the death penalty?” – That was at the center of an extraordinary discussion this morning inside the walls of the Museum of Belize. In light of continuous criminal activities, the team over at the museum pooled together professionals from different sectors to talk on the unspeakable; and dissect the topic of Capital Punishment. Ironically and perhaps intentionally used was the former prison, where the museum now sits, and in which nineteen recorded executions, by hanging, took place up until 1985.


Alexis Salazar

Alexis Salazar, Director, Museum of Belize

“Our fundamental goal is to provide an educational discussion on the topic at hand that will stimulate and engage our young people.”


Charlee Hutchinson

Charlee Hutchinson, History of Executions

“By the seventeenth century, hangings were already popularized and held in the public to serve as a deterrent. Until 1773 in London, prisoners were being executed three times per year with up to twenty individuals or twenty persons being hung simultaneously. This is a list of the nineteen individuals who were confirmed to have been executed here. We have Nora Parham; I am certain that most of you have heard the name before. She was the last female executed in the Caribbean and I believe the only female here. She was executed June fifth, 1963. And then the last being Kent Bowers; June nineteenth, 1985.”


During the colonial times, arsonists, slave runaways and murderers were judged and could be subject to Capital Punishment. In the case of other criminal offenses, a ‘Cat o’ nine whip’ was used as a tool to implement severe physical and judicial punishment, in Britain and colonies.

But following the 1985 execution of Kent Bowers, several human rights conventions were ratified by Belize and Capital Punishment ceased. The death penalty is deemed unlawful because it goes against our rights as stated in the constitution. Instead, murderers are given life sentences; but that too, as of recent, has been challenged in courts.


Shanidi Chell

Shanidi Chell, Crown Counsel, D.P.P. Office

“Section three of Belize’s constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law. Section four of Belize’s constitution states that a person shall not be deprived of his life intentionally, save in execution of the sentence of the court in respect of a criminal offense under any law of which he has been convicted. Section seven of our constitution states, however, that no persons shall be the subject of torture or inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.”


But is the criminal landscape in Belize a result of the age-old adage, “spare the rod and spoil the child?” For some time now, the Belize Police Department has engaged in community policing; in Eastern Division South, specifically, Assistant Commissioner Chester Williams and Dianne Finnegan carry out mediations with gangs as a crime intervention tool. Finnegan says that there are alternatives to cracking the whip and tightening the noose.


Dianne Finnegan

Dianne Finnegan, Project Director, Belize National Youth Apprenticeship Program

“Death for a death as a penalty psychologically assists the perpetrator in that they don’t have to live any longer with the guilt and the anguish of murdering another human being. Life imprisonment is by far a harsher penalty for the perpetrator must live in extreme conditions within prison walls until they die while each day reminiscing about the crime they have committed. I feel that I have been blessed with the privilege to work with young people who have been facing major challenges as they journey through this life. But my greatest blessing is working with the gangs. It has given me the opportunity to tap into their souls, to reach a part of them that society may never ever get to discover about them. Because we get to realize that they still have dreams; they still have hopes even though they have been caught up in a life of destruction.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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