Friday Forum is deeply disturbed at the prospect of judicial executions taking place again in Sri Lanka after a gap of nearly 40 years. This is, we believe, an understandable but simplistic and counter-productive reaction to horrible crimes. It is a measure that will divert attention from the real need, which is to seek why and how these appalling things are occurring, and then take preventive action. The true incentive to crime is that perpetrators feel that they can get away with it. The real deterrent is the likelihood that one will be found out, arrested, tried, convicted and punished. The remedy is improving the criminal justice system – better crime prevention, better crime detection, better investigation, improved prosecutions and trial procedures.
It is in the most horrific and pitiable cases, where there is huge pressure on the police, both by their superiors and by the public, to show results, that arrests of innocent persons and miscarriages of justice are most likely to take place. Do we have enough faith in our police, our prosecutors, our judges, our defence lawyers, our courts, our public from whom juries are drawn, to be sure that arrests and prosecutions and convictions will never be influenced by inefficiency or carelessness or political pressure or corruption? Or just plain bona fide mistake? That perjured evidence will never be acted on? Even under the best criminal justice system, wrong convictions are bound to take place. Because convictions depend on human beings and no human institution is infallible. Of course this applies to all criminal proceedings and consequent punishments. But the death penalty is in a category of its own because it is irreversible. Recent judicial reviews of criminal convictions in the UK have revealed many instances of unsafe convictions. In some, the accused had been hanged. In others, they would have been hanged had the death penalty not been abolished.
This is not a matter to be decided by public opinion or even by majority votes in Parliament, understandably inflamed by ghastly sexual attacks and murders. It is a matter for leaders to show true leadership after sober assessment. Many countries have abolished capital punishment and have not experienced a subsequent rise in crime. Many moral leaders and eminent Sri Lankans have opposed the death penalty; the King of Bhutan abolished it as contrary to Buddhism. It is also surely significant that the death penalty is not included in the punishments that the International Criminal Court can impose for even the most heinous of war crimes.
Professor Savitri Goonesekere Dr. Geedreck Usvatte-aratchi
on behalf of the Friday Forum
Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Mr. Ananda Galappatti, Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi , Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Professor Camena Guneratne, Mr. Saliya Pieris, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Professor Gameela Samarasinghe, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Mr. S.C.C.Elankovan, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Ms, Damaris Wickremesekera, Mr. D Wijayanandana, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Professor Ranjini Obeyesekere, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Professor Gananath Obeyesekere, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne,