Sri Lanka’s decision to revive capital punishment seems to have ruffled many feathers. Most of the opponents to the death penalty believe no human being has the right to snuff out another’s life.
However, they need to understand that the decision to revive the death penalty to execute a few hardened illicit drug traders has a noble motive of saving many lives of future generations.
On Thursday (27), no lesser person than the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres telephoned President Maithripala Sirisena about this decision and the latter explained the rationale of the decision to him.
The following day, President Sirisena reiterated that it is essential to carry out capital punishment against big time illicit drug smugglers for the sake of the young generation of the country. Speaking at a function in Polonnaruwa on Friday (28), he said his decision to carry out the death sentence against the few hardened drug smugglers who continue to engage in drug smuggling operations from prison was an important part of the crusade to eliminate drug trade.
Several countries and organizations, including Amnesty International objected to the President’s move stating, “arbitrary execution of persons convicted of drug-related offences” was wrong. Some went so far as to say that executions for drug-related offences are unlawful. They do not meet the threshold for ‘most serious crimes,’ such as an intentional killing – to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international human rights law, they argued.
They have ignored the fact that President Sirisena’s proposal is for the execution of drug offenders who continue their criminal act while in prison and that it is not an arbitrary execution. If these criminals carry out drug smuggling while in prison, it is clear that they do not have any desire to rectify their errant ways and become good citizens. The right to rehabilitate or reform is not something they wish to make use of.
Many countries implement the death penalty. India, the land of the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, the Apostle of Nonviolence, took the hard decision in 2012 to hang Ajmal Kasab, the hardcore terrorist of Lakshar-e-Taiba militant organization responsible for the killing of 72 innocent civilians in the Mumbai terror attack. The hanging of the 2008 Mumbai attack gunman Ajmal Kasab took place on November 21, 2012.
In India, more than 1,500 prisoners have been executed since 1947. According to a report of the Law Commission of India (1967), from 1953-63 1,410 cases had been awarded the death sentence in India. The last few executed prisoners in India were ruthless terrorists like Ajmal Kasab, who killed innocent civilians in a ruthless killing spree in Mumbai. The last execution in India was Yakub Memon, on July 30, 2015, convicted of financing the 1993 Mumbai bombings. Prior to these, the last three executions were the February 8, 2013 hanging of Muhammad Afzal, convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament.
This year alone, China executed more than 1,000 convicts, Iran (253), Saudi Arabia (149), Vietnam (85) and Iraq (52). The most affluent and powerful country in the world, the USA executed 10 convicts in the first five months of this year, and a total of 25 prisoners were executed in the US last year.
The logic behind the death sentence was that ‘the punishment should fit the crime’. A similar view must be taken about the decision made by President Sirisena to carry out the death sentence against a very few hardened drug smugglers sentenced to death several years ago and carrying out illicit drug trade from prison. If a person commits a crime that affects a significant portion of the young generation and continues to indulge in that crime while in death row, does he not qualify for capital punishment?
Sri Lanka’s last execution was in 1976. During the Universal Period Review (UPR) of the abolition of the death penalty, in November 2012, several countries urged Sri Lanka to consider abolishing the death penalty. Although the death sentence has not been carried out for the last 43 years, Sri Lankan courts continue to sentence defendants to death and the current moratorium is in effect only by virtue of the President’s occasional initiatives to commute death sentences.
According to surveys, the majority of Americans still approve of executing perpetrators of heinous crimes and the number of supporters of capital punishment is on the increase. In Sri Lanka too, the masses approve of death sentence. Only a few interested groups with an agenda and a few deeply committed human rights champions are against this move.
Addressing media heads on Wednesday (26) at President’s House in Colombo, President Sirisena emphasized the danger of illicit drugs. Pointing out that there are about 100,000 drug addicts in the country, he urged all sections of society including the media to extend support to the Government’s endeavour against illicit drugs.
The President stressed that the death penalty would be imposed in the coming two weeks adding that this is not an issue that can be addressed through compassion.“I might be depicted as a wrongdoer but I will do the right thing with honesty, according to my conscience,” he said.