“But what then is Capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders…?” ~ Albert Camus
The Friday Forum wishes to express its horror and disgust that the President has signed the death warrants of four prisoners. To date the names of these prisoners have not been made known to the public, nor the offences for which they have been convicted.
The Constitution implicitly provides for the imposition of capital punishment in Article 13 (4), and courts do impose this punishment on convicted offenders under the relevant laws. However, death sentences have not been carried out since 1976 when the last execution took place. It has been recognized that it violates the right to life, there is a grave danger of miscarriages of justice, and it has never been proved to have a special deterrent effect on crime as opposed to other forms of punishment. Rather, it is the ultimate example of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.
There are currently over 1000 convicted prisoners on death row in prisons and it has always been accepted that the punishment will not be carried out. While ideally, the provision for capital punishment should be removed from the Constitution and the statute books, at least this status quo was acceptable in our society. The death penalty is nothing less than institutionalized murder and the initiatives of the President to revive it were understandably met with strong objections.
The death penalty has no place in a society which is home to four of the major religions in the world, all of which teach compassion and respect for human life. We are on the brink of violating Sri Lanka’s obligations to international human rights standards that Sri Lanka has endorsed. We will have to face the consequences, not least, shame and disgrace in the eyes of the world.
It is indeed ironic that a President who campaigned on the slogan of a “Maithri Palanaya” (merciful governance) should now single handedly take our country back to a dark age by this retrogressive step. We call on the President to immediately rescind these orders of execution and also call on the Legislature to take measures to abolish capital punishment in Sri Lanka without further delay.
Prof. Camena Guneratne and Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
On behalf of:
Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. S.C.C. Elankovan, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chetty, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Dr. Geedreck Usvatte-aratchi, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Mr. Faiz Ur-Rahman, Mr. Prashan de Visser, Mr. Dhammapala Wijayanandana and Dr. Devanesan Nesiah.