A step backwards for human rights
Sri Lanka has not implemented the death penalty in 40 years. The current President and his cabinet, however, want to re-activate it for 19 people convicted of drug-related crimes.
Although Sri Lanka has not carried out the death penalty since 1976, the President’s plan to impose it on 19 prisoners convicted of drug-related offenses this past July, has stirred up an old debate. Apart from increasing drug trafficking, murder cases including the assassination of the High Court Judge Ambepitiya as well as the rape and murder of minor age girls such as Seya Sadevmi and Sivaloganathan Vidya have led other Sri Lankans to support the re-activation of the death penalty after a nearly 40-year moratorium.
Various religious and diplomatic representatives expressed their disagreement of the return of the death penalty in Sri Lanka:
Buhddist monk Ven. Galkande Dhammananda Thero
“Execution of the death sentence is a very severe, violent act. According to the theory of causation, the childhood environment, lack of love and affection, harassment at school and maltreatment by society influence a person to become cruel. These factors influence the emergence of criminals to a great extent.
What we witnessed with regard to the 1983 Black July event and the recent Kandy episode was the silent aloofness on the part of the law enforcement agencies when attacks were launched on small communities who were the object of hatred and their properties were being destroyed. Is it in such a country that the law on the death penalty is going to be brought?”
The Christian Church of Ceylon said in a press statement that the decision to enforce death penalty was a “sudden one reached by the President and the Cabinet without proper analysis in the face of people’s unrest and protest regarding the recent wave of shootings and murders associated with underworld gangs.” A statement issued by Reverend Bishops of the Anglican Church states that the Christian Church “condemns any human or state destroying any human life.”
Rev. Bishop stressed that the government should “refrain from yielding to the impulse of killing humans in order to evade their responsibility” rather than taking expeditious and unhesitating steps to close all the loopholes available to get away with committing serious crimes.
Amnesty International, said Sri Lanka’s the decision to activate the death penalty after more than 40 years tarnishes Sri Lanka’s reputation.
Dinushika Dissanayake, Assistant Director of Amnesty International’s South Asian Research Division, says the Government of Sri Lanka should declare a legal period of suspension as the first step towards abolishing the death sentence.
Dissanayake mentioned that Sri Lanka had been a leading nation in the Asian region in terms of non-implementation of the death penalty. She stated that subjecting any person found guilty of offences associated with narcotics to the death penalty is a violation of international law and declared that Amnesty International would oppose its implementation in any case.
Dr. Deepika Udugama, Chairperson of the Centre for Human Rights in Sri Lanka points to a common perception that the narcotic trade and other crimes of serious nature that occur in Sri Lanka get the support of the law-enforcement and political authorities.
“If the drug selling racket is handled from within the prison, it is a weakness of the prison system. Implementing the death penalty without rectifying these shortcomings will not yield a solution to the problem. An intense scrutiny should be carried out as to how these crimes operate from within the prison system and which officers support them. If we are to overcome this situation, the prison system should be subjected to a stronger and more methodical process than at present.”
Diplomatic sources say that the resident ambassadors of the European Union in Sri Lanka presented a written request to the President in July with the agreement of the Norwegian and the Canadian Ambassadors.
Fr. Ashok Stephen, Attorney-At-Law, Director of the Social and Ecumenical Centre, has emphasized that no person has the right to destroy a life.
Fr. Stephen says “The country will be dragged down to international disrepute by attempting to implement the heinous act of executing the death penalty without giving answers to where mistakes or problems exist.”