The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has urged President Maithripala Sirisena to abolish the death penalty in Sri Lanka in keeping with Sri Lanka’s commitment to a more humane society consonant with human rights principles and values.
In a letter to the President, the Human Rights Commission says the death penalty is imperative for Sri Lanka in recognition of the growing global recognition that the death penalty seriously violates several human rights including the right to life and freedom from cruel and inhuman punishment, is an extreme and irreversible punishment and is ineffective as a deterrent to crime.
Under the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act No. 2L of 1996, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is required by Section 10 (c) and 10(d) of the said Act, among other things, to advise and assist the Government in formulating legislation and administrative directives and procedures in furtherance of the promotion and protection of fundamental rights and to make recommendations to the Government regarding measures which should be taken to ensure that national laws and administrative practices are in accordance with international human rights norms and standards.
“Your Excellency’s attention is drawn to the Second Optional Protocol to the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly by resolution 441728 of 15th December 1989 which calls for the abolition of the death penalty. lts Preamble declares that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights. ln keeping with Sri Lanka’s commitment to improving human rights protection in the country we recommend that Sri Lanka accede to the Protocol and take steps to abolish the death penalty,” the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka said.
Whilst appreciating that from 1976, successive governments in Sri Lanka have not implemented the death penalty, the Commission notes that courts continue to impose the death penalty under several statutes which provide for the imposition of the death penalty, including the Penal Code and the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance as amended by Act No. 13 of 1984.
ln view of international and comparative jurisprudence, the Commission agrees with the position that the death penalty amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and fails to respect the sanctity of human life.
Many proponents of the implementation of the death penalty have urged its implementation as a deterrence to crime. However, HRCLS notes that it is an effective justice system and a just social order that lead to a reduction in crime, as is seen in countries which have some of the lowest crime rates.
“There is no empirical data, to show that death penalty has caused a reduction in crime or has a deterrent effect on crime. Despite constitutional safeguards, including the appeals process and recommendations being called from the trial judge, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, it is the view of the Commission that there is always the risk of innocent persons being executed for crimes which they did not commit. It is the view of the Commission that in view of the serious flaws which exist in the criminal justice system coupled with Sri Lanka, unlike other countries, not having a process permitting the reopening of a criminal case after exhaustion of the appeals procedures, there is a serious risk of a miscarriage of justice,” HRCSL said.
The Commission further noted that in the United States , Canada and the United Kingdom there have been several occasions where people wrongly convicted have been released from death row or prison decades later, the most recent being a U.S. man who was released in November in Louisiana after serving 23 years in prison for several crimes, because the judge found he did not obtain a fair trail.
The Commission is of the view that the chances are that accused from underprivileged circumstances would be more prone to be subjected to the death penalty than those who have the financial means to hire competent counsel. (Colombo Gazette)