Sri Lankan president stands firm on death penalty

MP calls on parliament to block Maithripala Sirisena’s plans to bring back the hangman’s noose
Sri Lankan president stands firm on death penalty

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena walks past seized cocaine prepared to be destroyed under judicial supervision in a suburb of capital Colombo on April 1. He is insisting on enforcing the death penalty for drug traffickers. (AFP photo) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka
July 15, 2019
Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena says he will declare a national day of mourning if the country’s parliament attempts to block his proposal for reinstatement of the death penalty.

MP Bandula Lal Bandarigoda has submitted a private member's bill seeking to block the return of capital punishment after 43 years. His bill also provides provisions to commute the sentence to one of life imprisonment to those already on death row.

But President Sirisena insists his decision to reinstate the death penalty will not be reversed and condemned the very idea of it being debated in parliament.

"That particular day will be marked as one of national mourning," said President Sirisena on July 14 in Embilipitiya. “The decision to implement the death penalty will not be reversed.”

The president has ordered the death penalty against four convicted drug dealers and authorities have already hired two executioners to carry out the first hangings since Sri Lanka introduced a de facto moratorium in 1976.

The hangmen were selected out of more than 100 applicants who responded to an advertisement calling for Sri Lankan men aged 18-45 with “excellent moral character” and “mental strength.”

Sri Lanka has signed international declarations against the death penalty and the president’s proposal has not enhanced his country’s international standing. Nor has it gone down well domestically — several written court petitions have been filed seeking an interim order preventing the implementing of the death sentence.

Several international rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have criticized the intended return of the hangman’s noose, noting that 106 countries have already abolished the death penalty.

The Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has called on President Sirisena to immediately halt his plans to carry out executions.

"We urge the parliament of Sri Lanka to initiate urgent reforms to repeal the death penalty, a power no one person should possess in a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law," the CPA said on June 28.

The CPA noted that resuming the death penalty went against decades of Sri Lanka's domestic and international policy.

"Sri Lanka is obliged under international law to refrain from carrying out the death penalty,” said the CPA statement.

“Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which both stress the right to life and oblige states to impose the death penalty in only the most exceptional circumstances for the most serious crimes.

"All the major religions practiced in Sri Lanka are founded on principles of non-violence. The re-imposition of the death penalty is a clear violation of these principles.”

Sri Lankan Catholics, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, priests and other religious leaders, have organized several protest marches and rallies against the increased use of illegal drugs.

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The country has been used for years as a transit point for drugs but now domestic concerns are growing about the local use of illegal drugs, especially among young people and children.

President Sirisena said he would not allow drug criminals to destroy younger generations.

A recent survey conducted by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, the police and the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention said about 150,000 children under the age of 18 had become victims of drugs suppliers. Around 6,100 of these were said to be addicted to heroin.

Nearly 100,000 consume heroin daily, of whom 85,000 are boys and 1,500 girls. About 300,000 Sri Lankan youngsters are reported to be addicted to cannabis, with 1,500 girls among them.

The police have stepped up their efforts too, with 40,846 people arrested in connection with drugs trafficking over the past six months.

President Sirisena is under political pressure to take strong action to combat rising crime and terrorism in the wake of the Easter suicide bomb attacks that killed more than 250 people.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka said in August 2018 that the death penalty would not solve the drugs menace.

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