By 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.