By R.M.B Senanayake –
President Sirisena has announced that he is considering the re-introduction of the death penalty. It is a very timely decision indeed considering the heinous crimes committed daily in our country. The President will be remembered for this salutary decision if he implements it forthwith.
Man fears death more than anything else and the more heinous the death the greater the fear. This is probably why the ancients resorted to methods of killing criminals which we think today are heinous. Nothing else concentrates the would be criminal’s mind so much as the probability of punishment for his crime. If it is death then he would be more deterred from committing the crime than any other consideration. Fear of going to hell is no longer there among our people. Although all crimes are not pre-mediated yet many brutal and vicious crimes are committed after a process of thinking although the thinking is largely about how to escape being caught. The greater the probability of getting caught and punished the greater the deterrent. Similarly, the greater the punishment greater the probability of deterring the crime. The only argument against the death penalty is the probability of human error in the process of judgment and conviction in courts. But our law and legal procedures are heavily weighted 9 in favor of the accused that this probability is greatly reduced. The Judges too will impose the death penalty with caution and confine it to pre-mediated murder. They too are more likely to weigh in favor of the accused and give him the benefit of the doubt. So we need not worry too much that an innocent man would be hanged. The probability is more that a criminal who deserves the death sentence may go scot free or get a lesser punishment than the death sentence which h deserves considering the nature of the crime. According to the former Chief Justice Sarath Silva only 4% of those accused of crimes are convicted. In Japan it is 97%. So here lies another problem- the low rate of convictions. But it reduces the risk of an innocent man being hanged.
The EU is known to oppose the imposition of the death penalty. But the USA carries out the death penalty and so does China. The EU countries indulged in mass slaughter during two world wars. They are also more humane but this humanness is not a product of the lack of the death penalty. Each country’s circumstances are different and the history of crime and crime control show how many countries depended on the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. The Bible of course refers to God forbidding the killing of Cain by any person although he had killed his brother Abel. But the ancient Jews did carry out the death penalty. Stoning a woman caught in adultery was prevalent until the time of Jesus Chris who put an end to it. The Muslims still stone women to death. The Sharia is based on the ancient principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We can condemn these practices sanctimoniously but their deterrent effect to commit crimes is not in doubt.
Let us not mix religion with the practical conduct of affairs of the State. Our ancient Sinhalese kings carried out the death penalty despite the religious teachings in Buddhism. In fact they carried it out in ways that effectively struck terror to those committed the crimes. Modern men may consider them brutal but their deterrent effect is not in doubt for it is said a woman could freely across the length and breadth of the country. We have to be pragmatic and judge by results rather than by religious precepts. The argument against the death penalty is that the State has no right to do what it prohibits others from doing and considers killing a crime. True indeed but this is the sphere of religious teachings.
Let us consider the practical reality of our society where drug dealers, rapists and other assorted criminals are resorting to them with impunity. The legal system is heavily weighted in favor of those who spend money to save themselves from judicial punishment. Our women and girls are wantonly raped and killed as the incidents in Jaffna and Kahawatte have shown.
Yes Mr. President please order the implementation of the death penalty immediately and restore at least some order and law in our society . It is not a perfect deterrent but more effective than what prevails today where there is life imprisonment where the State has to feed the prisoners for a long time.