The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has sent an open letter to the President of the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, to express serious distress over the intention to reinstate the death penalty and seek the execution of four individuals currently on death row for drug-related offences. Any execution would contravene a moratorium on the death penalty in Sri Lanka that has been maintained since 1976.
IBAHRI Co-Chair, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented, ‘I am deeply saddened by President Sirisena’s decision to reverse on the 43-year long moratorium on the death penalty upheld by previous office-holders despite ample empirical evidence that the imposition of capital punishment has no deterrent effect on drug offenders. To proceed with the execution of those four individuals would stand in direct contravention with Sri Lanka’s international commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The imposition of the death penalty in cases other than those arising from the most serious of crimes is a violation of Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR, and as the United Nations Human Rights Committee has made clear, drug offences do not meet this threshold.’
Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, IBAHRI Co-Chair, stated, ‘The death penalty constitutes a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of punishment, and it is regrettable that the Sri Lankan President has chosen to undermine the country’s long-standing commitment towards an abolitionist stance. I am also deeply troubled by the apparent arbitrariness in choosing the four individuals concerned, as reviving the death penalty would deprive them of their right to life and to equality before the law as guaranteed by the Constitution and in international law. The respect for both rights is a vital prerequisite for the maintenance of the rule of law in Sri Lanka – a value that should be specially protected by politicians in a country that has only recently emerged from internal conflict.’
The IBAHRI urges the President of Sri Lanka to refrain from reinstating the death penalty and, instead, to continue the long-standing moratorium and commute the penalties to a life sentence, thereby strengthening Sri Lanka’s commitment to the protection and fulfilment of all human rights, including the right to life and equality before the law.