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Global Tamil Forum deplores reintroduction of capital punishment for drug trafficking in Sri Lanka

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) deplores reports that the Sri Lankan cabinet committee has decided to reintroduce death penalty for those convicted of drug trafficking. GTF is deeply concerned that the desire to reintroduce death penalty -after a period of more than 40 years of moratorium- fits into an emerging pattern in the country where toying with extreme ideas are becoming mainstream and acceptable.

Death penalty is an inherently cruel and irreversible punishment, which is neither morally defensible nor can be backed up by evidence to have had any notable effect on deterring abhorrent crimes. It is ironic the country that did not resort to death penalty even during decades of armed conflict now wants to resume this barbaric practice.

GTF fully concurs drug abuse is a menace in the society and every possible step needs to be taken to root out drug trafficking. Report of drug trafficking from the confines of prisons is a failure of the prison system and cannot justify capital punishment. Further, in a country where judicial independence and capacity is hotly disputed, the risk of miscarriage of justice and wrongful execution of an innocent person will be unacceptably high.

Sri Lanka by reintroducing death penalty will be joining a shrinking minority of states that persist with this horrific practice. This arbitrary action violates Sri Lanka’s international commitments, including its repeated votes in favour of a moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty at the UN General Assembly.

At a time when Sri Lanka’s genuineness in fully implementing its commitments under the UNHRC Resolution 30(34)-1 is questioned, brazenly abandoning another of its long-standing principle is deeply concerning.

Sri Lanka has yet to come to terms with its horrendous past where thousands of what is viewed as officially sanctioned illegal executions were a common occurrence. For a society that is desensitised to such atrocious crimes, reintroducing legal executions may not appear as particularly troubling. And it is precisely for this reason that leadership from both the government and opposition should put their political differences aside and, with conviction, desist from such inhuman practice.

GTF views the reintroduction of death penalty as a regressive step impeding the transformation of Sri Lanka into a modern, decent and humane society and is appalled by press reports that there is support among some religious leaders in favour of this change. In fact, the civil society and religious leaders should provide firm and principled guidance in opposing this short-sighted attempt and the international community should strongly articulate the negative consequences of such action.

GTF calls on the Sri Lankan government to back away from its ill-conceived decision. Democracy and respect for human rights, at a minimum, demand it.