10 August, 2022


Re-Enforcement Of The Death Penalty – A Point Of View

By P. Soma Palan –

P. Soma Palan

Presidential action to re-enforce the Death Penalty for those convicted of Drug Trafficking, which is the decision of the ruling Government, has engendered much debate and controversy in the Media. It has also raised International concerns, as expressed by the European Union and the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Crime of Murder and Narcotic Drug Trafficking

It is not categorically stated that the Sentence of Death will be enforced for both crimes of Murder and Drug Trafficking, as media reports is only focusing on Drug trafficking. Thus, there is lack of clarity. If it is in respect of Drug Trafficking only, and not murder, then it is grossly iniquitous, because crime of murder is the most heinous and gravest than Drug Trafficking. Murder is killing a human being. The right to life is sacred and inviolable. Those who kill another human being forfeit the right to live. To protect the principle of the right to life,deterrent  punishment of death is a necessity. Drug trafficking and peddling is not a direct threat to right to life. It is a remote cause shortening the life of the drug user. But use of drugs destabilize the society by consequential criminal violence, murder, rape etc. Equating drug trafficking with homicidal murder is a grave injustice. It is against the judicial principle that punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed. A longer sentence of imprisonment or life imprisonment is reasonable. Therefore, imposing and executing the death sentence for Drug trafficking is not maintainable on legal principle.

Destroy Drug Trafficking at its Source

The remedy for the Drug menace lies not in punishing the offenders with the death sentence, but in applying stronger and stringent methods of Policing by the law enforcement Agencies. Drug trafficking is a super-lucrative business. The enormous street value of narcotic drugs means, it requires vast capital investment. This could only be generated by the most resourceful individuals, enjoying power and influence. Drug trafficking, therefore, cannot be engaged in by lower and middle tiers of society. The actual physical traffickers of narcotic drugs are mere instruments/ accessories in the crime. In Law, any crime has two components, that is, the Principal and the Accessory.  The Principal and the Accessory could be one and the same person or two different persons. The “ doer” and the Mind behind the doer. This corresponds to the legal concept of “ Actus Reus” and “ Mens Rea”. In Drug trafficking the”doer” are mere instruments in the command of the “minds” behind the crime, who are resourceful  and influential people. It is said that some Politicians and even Monks are behind the Drug trade. In this scenario, is it justifiable to punish the smaller fry with death, while the big sharks get away. My argument against the death sentence for drug traffickers is not on the grounds of misplaced religious grounds, but on principles of law and justice.

Remedy is not enforcement of the death sentence to Drug traffickers, but effective and stringent Policing to destroy it at its source. Effective and innovative methodology should be employed to link the traffickers to its source, the Drug Mafia. It is through the traffickers that the Drug Mafia could be traced. In Drug trafficking, possession of Narcotic Drugs is vital to the evidence. The traffickers have the possession but not the Mafia, the brains behind the trade. Ingenuous investigative methods should be applied to link and rope in the real Traffickers, the organized Mafia.

Activate the Death Sentence for those convicted for Murder

It is not for Drug Trafficking, but for the crime of murder that re-enforcement of the death sentence , a vital necessity. The rising wave of murders taking place in the country can be arrested, if not eliminated. A deterrent punishment with death will make a potential murder think twice, before committing this diabolical crime. To say the death sentence has no effect on the rate of fall of crime is not the issue. The principle of justice demands that those who intentionally kill another fellow-human being, has no right to live. The sanctity of the right to life must not only be protected but also vindicated, if violated. If the right to life has to have any meaning, its violation should be punished by denial of that right to the violator by the State, which is lawful killing. To say such lawful killing of a human being is inhuman and barbaric is not rationally defensible, on moral and religious grounds. It is in furtherance of the Law of Dharma.

Moreover, a person charged for the crime of murder, is subject to due process of the law and a hearing by a judicial Court. Besides, after consideration of judicial defenses and mitigating circumstances legally available to him, such as plea of self-defense, Grave and sudden provocation, insanity etc , the death sentence is pronounced by the Judge. Furthermore, his guilt is established on the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Buddhism and the Death Sentence

Buddhism is against killing any being, human or other. This religious principle is not a prerogative of Buddhism . None of the religions sanction killing. The Principle of Ahimsa is a cardinal teaching of Hinduism. The Buddhist precept “thou shall not kill” is derived from this principle of Ahimsa, which is not only for physical, even for verbal violence. Life is sacred and the right to life is universal. It is to protect and safeguard this noble right, that those who violate it by killing another human being, is punished with death. To hold that a convicted murderer should not be lawfully executed by death by the State, as it is against Buddhism, is preaching “bana”to the murderer. It seems, Buddhism has more compassion for the killer than for the killed. Isn’t it righteous by the killed to kill his killer? Will it not be a vindication of justice, and offer solace (shanthi) to the killed Atma? There is compassion and ahimsa for the murderer, but totally ignore any redemption to the killed .This stand cannot be reconciled with religion. If religious precepts should determine State policy and governance, it would lead to ludicrous results. As killing is not permissible in Buddhism, then the country should not have a standing Army. An Army with lethal weapons, signifies the intention to kill. How could one reconcile this with the Buddhist precept of non-killing? Of course, it will be argued that Armed force is necessary to defend and kill enemies who invade the country, therefore , killing is justified. Why not the same logic be applied to individuals in a civil, ordered society? If one person kills the other, isn’t it the State’s legitimate right to kill the killer, on behalf of the killed? Yes, it is morally justified, notwithstanding the Buddhist religious precept “thou shall not kill”. But an Army could exceed its legitimate role of killing armed enemies, and wantonly kill unarmed civilians in thousands, as they did in the war against the LTTE. Where was the pious invocation of the Buddhist teaching by the high prelates, “thou shall not kill” heard, in remorse and condemnation of such unlawful killings.They had abandoned the lofty precept “thou shall not kill”, when people killed are not their own kind. Furthermore, how could one reconcile the killing of millions viruses, bacteria, mosquitoes, by the Doctors and Health Officers, both within our bodies and outside, to save the lives of the people, with Buddhist teaching. Wouldn’t it be utter stupidity to preach “bana” to them, asking them not to kill, as it violates Buddhist precept.

During my childhood days in the 1940s, murdering human beings, were a rare occurrence. There was a widespread fear of the gallows amongst the populace.  With the suspension of the death sentence, the fear of the gallows disappeared from people’s psyche. Killing of people has not only proliferated, it has become more brutal and gruesome, and the methods adopted more varied and deviously sophisticated defying investigation and solution of the crime. Murders are meticulously premeditated and planned, for example the “ White Van Culture” of abduction and murder, mysterious disappearances of persons, the brutal murder of the journalist , Lasantha Wickrematunge by the socalled “bolt gun”, the faked motor car accident killing of ruggerite, Wasim Thajudeen, disappearance of journalist,  Prageeth Ekneligoda, stand out prominently. Solution of these murders have become complex and problematic, whilst the suspects are roaming the country freely and leading luxurious lives, without any religious or moral compunction, despite being ostensible, avowed Buddhists paying homage to the Precept “ thou shall not kill”. It is time we set aside religious teachings and modern sociological and humanitarian considerations, and mete out justice by vindicating the ‘right to life” of the victim of the murder, rather than compassion for the murderer. We can make the punishment little more humane and quicker, by lethal injection or the “electric chair”, instead of hanging by the neck.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    “To say such lawful killing of a human being is inhuman and barbaric is not rationally defensible, on moral and religious grounds. It is in furtherance of the Law of Dharma.”

    Eye for an eye doctrine is a bit primitive. Suppose even if religious beliefs could be ignored, one has to understand the meaning of ‘life’. Killing a person or even an animal is not a right. You may not realize that it has taken billions of years of natural process to produce life forms. Once something comes alive, it has to live a natural life. No one could assume to have a right over this form of life. In a society where if a life is deliberately destroyed, then we have to think cleverly how this could be stopped. There are many many solutions. Not eye for an eye.

    In the Sri Lankan context, all politicians are just crazy not fitting into any intellectual slots. One idiot shouts from one end and the others sing or shout. They have no objectives but waste time and money. As you say the vices have to be tackled with intelligence, not violence. Good writing.

    • 0

      Dear Ad,
      Your comment” eye for an eye is bit primitive”. Precisely because “life” is sacred no one should violate it and kill another human being. If so, isn’t the murderer killing another human also primitive, whatever the reason? As I have said, then why have an Army with weapons? The intention is to kill an enemy who attacks. Will you preach ” Ahimsa” to the enemy, instead of killing the enemy? Why Doctors kill ” viruses, bacteria and Health staff kill deadly mosquitoes, These are also life forms in the process of evolution as you say. The reason is to save life. These acts are also primitive, then. On the contrary, it is rational and enlighten.

      • 0

        I do understand very well what’s running in your mind. What I imply is that enemy is the creation of a system. Getting rid of enemy should not result in conflicts and destruction, but the introduction of a corrective system where the result is live and let live. One may ask where it is implemented. Mankind should learn from animals using zebra crossing to cross the roads, cats playing with mouse, dogs playing with cats and so on. Wisdom should direct one’s thoughts to seek diplomatic peaceful means to disengage violent thoughts from those who resort to such. Killing is certainly not the solution, just because world had such a past and also present.

  • 0

    LTTE was killing by attaching them to LAmp posts. IT was the same punishment.

    • 0

      JVP did the same thing clamping them on post ( lamp posting)

  • 1

    Let’s not blow hot and blow cold. It is about the implementation of the death sentence for whatever offence. Let’s not debate as to which is the more serious crime, drug trafficking or murder. Both result in sniffing out life, directly or indirectly. The chaps would like to start this here in Sri Lanka, starting with drug kingpins who are supposed to carry the trade while in the shadow of gallows. Heh! How come even an ordinary bloke cannot talk to a guy under death sentence seeing the face fully (except through some mesh) carry out the drug business? It is entirely due to corruption in the prison system, which nobody inn power wants to highlight and put a stop to it. The re-introduction of execution for the stated category too is for corrupt motives, which I have described in a previous comment. Under the policy of “Make hay while the sun shines” the executions too would be extended to convicted murderers as well. Some now bear the record as the fourth richest politician of Sri Lanka. (The first of course is his predecessor and former boss.) May be HE wants to be the first in the quickest possible time.

  • 0

    Apart from the moral and ethical aspects of capital punishment we have to consider whether innocent people will be sentenced based on fake evidence.
    A well known drug runner and MP was charged with murdering a fellow MP. Will the culprit be tried for the murder only?

  • 0

    Well said Mr. Soma Palan .

    This is why in the modern era we need to keep religion and state polls apart .

    Religion should and must be respected but treated as a personal matter.

    Death penalty is a must , but to rush
    into it like a bull in a China shop is not sane.

    The government should introduce it
    allowing a time frame of six months. .

    And also it should state it is applicable only to those who commit crimes from or after the date the law comes to effect .

    It would be be a complete injustice to hang those of past who have already served a period of insane uncertainty with mental pain in prison under the brand of death penalty which never existed , that would seem very sadistic , its like mentally torturing before killing the person .No way it is justifiable .

    The punishment should be applicable only to those who commit the crime after the Law comes to full affect .

    The entire judicial community has a responsibility to make sure it is implemented in that manner and should advice the president accordingly .

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