Civil society concerned with implementing death penalty

Local civil society activists and groups in Sri Lanka expressed their deep concerns about the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to take steps towards implementing the death penalty.

The death penalty has not been implemented in Sri Lanka since 1976, though it continues to remain as a punishment for certain categories of offences.

According to media reports the Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Maithripala Sirisena to take steps towards implementing the death penalty regarding persons who have been sentenced to death for drug offences and “who continue to operate the drug racket from their prison cells”.

“We reiterate the objections made by several stakeholders in stating that there is no empirical evidence to support the assertion that the death penalty has a deterrent value and that it reduces crime, once imposed the death penalty cannot be reversed as such individuals could to be punished with death for crimes they did not commit, enforcing the death penalty is contrary to Sri Lanka’s international obligations and It is not the way a civilised society deals with crime, especially complicated crime in the nature of trafficking narcotics,” a statement by local civil society said.

In this regard they also welcomed the observations of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) contained in letter dated 13th July 2018 addressed to President Sirisena which echoes the its previous letter to President Sirisena in January 2016 requesting him to take steps to abolish the death penalty.

“We urge the President, Prime Minister and the other members of the Cabinet of Ministers to seriously consider these recommendations by the HRCSL, which is statutorily mandated to advise the Government in matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights,” The statement said.

Local civil society also said that they are also concerned by a proposal reportedly approved by the Cabinet of Ministers at its meeting on 10th July 2018 to draft legislation that would allow the security forces to exercise some police powers for a period of two years to purportedly help the Police in “eradicating the drug menace in the country”.

“The military exercising police powers is unacceptable in a context where there is no on going armed conflict. Military involvement in civilian activities has been a problem in post war Sri Lanka and the GoSL since 2010 has continuously promised to reduce the role of the military in civilian life. Whilst progress in this regard has been slow, this proposal if passed into law would be a mistake and a step in the wrong direction. The military’s training does not equip it to carry out policing functions effectively, as was seen when the military was summoned to deal with a protest in Rathupaswala in 2013, forcing the military to engage in policing functions can have disastrous consequences,” the statement said.

Local civil society said that whilst the proposed bill is for a specific period of time, Sri Lanka’s experience with other similar legislation has shown that these types of laws eventually become a permanent fixture in the legal system.

Local civil society said that there is no doubt about the need to curb narcotics in Sri Lanka, however the response of the Government needs to be carefully considered so as not to exacerbate existing problems. (Colombo Gazette)

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