By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
President Sirisena’s project of reintroducing the death penalty for those repeatedly convicted of drug offenses has resulted in bringing together a disparate gang of hypocrites with a global and local reach. Like in politics, the issue has brought together a group of strange bedfellows.
Opponents from western Europe consist of the European Union (EU), Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and Norway, besides the UK. Amnesty International, as usual, has got its knickers in a twist. Nevertheless, our neighbors, many including India, who still enforces the death penalty have quite rightly remained silent. They realize, it is Sri Lanka’s internal affair.
In the local scenario, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa, besides several civil society leaders have waded into the issue for no other reason than earning political capital.
The Mahanayakes are yet to take a stand. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith stated, “I welcome the death penalty” one year ago.
Nevertheless, the opinion of one of the key stakeholders, the people of this country, seem to be of little or no importance in this debate. There is only one way to find out.
Interestingly, the Daily Mirror published results of an opinion poll last Friday. 66.3% had voted in favor and 31.9% against the re-introduction of capital punishment. If it is anything to go by, the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, and many society big wigs seem to be totally out of sync with public opinion.
Nations have expressed shock and horror besides taking offense on President Sirisena’s decision. The EU has threatened sanctions by way of withdrawing GSP+. The UK states, it would find it difficult to cooperate on law enforcement issues. (Did Sri Lanka ask for it? We managed quite well without their cooperation until 2009). Canada opines it would tarnish Sri Lanka’s image as a peaceful and welcoming destination for travelers a.k.a. Negative travel advisory will remain. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has threatened to withdraw cooperation. It would not share with Sri Lanka information related to drug trafficking in case repeat convicts are sent to the gallows.
However, there is no consistency in the manner the said countries have addressed the death penalty in the past. They take a hard line in the case of hapless and powerless nations such as Sri Lanka. But they adopt a more tolerant and accommodating attitude towards economically powerful countries, and large commercial contracts are to be won. The same applies when it involves their own security. In some instances, devious ways have been found to overcome their own regulations.
30 out of the 50 states in the United States, besides the Federal Government and the US military, authorize the death penalty. The US has carried out 1,468 death sentences between 1976 and January 2018. Nations currently threatening Sri Lanka with dire consequences have not uttered one word of withdrawing from any of the several trade agreements with the US. Britain, along with other EU member states crawls on all fours when President Trump demands NATO members pay their fair share of defense expenditure.
Despite its holier than thou attitude, Britain recently outsourced the prosecution of two British ISIS terrorists which could eventually lead to their execution.
“The Beatles” is an all British ISIL terrorist cell dubbed after the famous British pop group due to their English accents. The leader was known as ‘Jihadi John.’ Video recordings are available of the group beheading at least 27 hostages in Raqqa including two American journalists and two British aid workers in 2014. Alexander Kotey dubbed Ringo, a 32-year-old convert from London and El Shafee Elsheikh known as George, a British citizen of Sudanese origin were apprehended by Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) in the Turkish border. Meanwhile, Britain stripped them of their citizenship.
In June 2018, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid dispatched a letter to former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He admitted Britain’s legal processes were insufficiently robust, and prosecution would probably fail. Therefore, Britain would approve America’s request for “mutual legal assistance” for Kotey and El Sheihk. All available intelligence on the two terrorists would be made available to US Prosecutors. No caveat would be requested, the duo would not face the death penalty, forbidden in British and EU law.
Even though it was a violation of Britain’s stated policy on capital punishment, Javid deceitfully dispatched the letter without public or Parliamentary consultation.
Then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, in an internal government briefing document is known to have agreed with the Home Secretary’s recommendation. He opined, “the benefits outweigh the risk of the two men returning to the UK. Should we prevent the men from being tried and brought to justice because of the risk of the death penalty?”
It was a tacit admission, the justice the two terrorists would receive in a British court of law would be wholly inadequate. Indefinite incarceration at Guantanamo or prosecution in a US court which could result in the death penalty was the justice desired by the British government.
Prime Minister Theresa May concurred with Javid’s decision. A release from Downing Street stated, “The ultimate aim for all of us is to ensure these men are brought to justice.”
That was UK’s own track record less than one year ago. Its objections and demand Sri Lanka desist from implementing the death penalty can only be attributed to a mentality Sri Lankans naively thought ended on February 4, 1948.
Death by hanging of Saddam Hussain
US code name Operation Iraqi Freedom, UK code name Operation Telic was launched on March 19, 2003. It involved an invasion force of 177,194 troops included US, UK, Australian and Polish troops. Britain contributed 45,000 soldiers. The objectives were to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people. Combat operations lasted just under one month. It was not a UN-sanctioned operation and was a unilateral decision by the US, and supported by the UK and a few of its vassal states.
Saddam Hussain, dictator if Iraq for over three decades and responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis was captured by US occupation forces near his hometown Tikrit and handed over to the Iraqi authorities. An Iraqi Special Tribunal convicted the former ruler on a charge of crimes against humanity and was sentenced to death by hanging. His request to be executed by firing squad as befitting the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi army was denied. He was hanged on December 30, 2006.
In London, then British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Hussein had been “held to account.” She added, however, that the British government did not support capital punishment in Iraq or elsewhere. Unlike their threat to discontinue cooperation on law enforcement issues as in the case with Sri Lanka, there were no threats of withdrawing the British occupation force of thousands of troops or of economic assistance.
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard said it was significant that Hussein was given “a proper trial” given the pain and suffering Hussein had caused Iraq.
Death by hanging of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab
The only surviving gunman involved in the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 was hanged in Pune, India, in November 2012. Kasab, 24, was sent to the gallows after the President of India rejected his appeal for clemency. He and his accomplices were responsible for the deaths of 160 people over three days.
It was India’s internal affair and had to be dealt with according to Indian law. Individual opinions of other countries were not relevant to the issue.
What is relevant to the issue is EU member states, Australia, Canada, and the UK, after making token protests against capital punishment invariably fall silent in such instances. There were never any threats of economic sanctions, withdrawal from trade agreements, and adverse travel advisories.
The said hypocritical countries would never have foregone the massive reconstruction contracts in Iraq by insisting Iraqis do not hang Saddam Hussain. They would not forego the vast market of over one billion consumers by demanding India spare Kasab’s life. Neither would they forget about the massive arms deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia who periodically behead convicts, by threatening the imposition of an arms embargo. Canada is yet to cancel the USD 15 billion arms deal to supply Saudi Arabia with armored vehicles despite regular beheadings.
All these countries remember their principles only when it concerns third world countries such as Sri Lanka and poor African countries. Countries are carefully handpicked to be lectured and threatened into submission.
That is due to no small measure as a result of leaders of such countries being willing to kowtow to western countries for their own narrow political gains.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is on record stating capital punishment was against the policies of the UNP he leads. President Sirisena, in one of his rare moments of wisdom, has questioned if the country had been governed based on UNP policies during the last four years. Would the treasonous act of co-sponsoring the UNHRC Resolution against Sri Lanka, twice robbing of the Central Bank, signing of Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA 2017) with US, and haste to sign Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US be based on UNP policies?
Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa has found common ground with the anti-capital punishment front and Ranil Wickremesinghe by stating he was personally opposed to the death penalty. Would the failure to resolve the murders of a reputed Editor/Journalist and popular ruggerite during his watch have anything to do with his personal preferences?
The cacophony by some in civil society opposing capital punishment as being against the tenets of Buddhism is crass hypocrisy. Let them reflect on Black July in 1983, Aluthgama in 2014 and Kandy/Digana in 2018 and the absence of judicial review.
Let there be no misunderstanding. The sanctimonious humbuggery against the death penalty by some members of the international community, the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and some members of civil society including NGO proxies is not based on altruistic reasons or Buddhist tenets but on individual vested interests. Some may even be in the pay of drug lords.
From a different perspective, let not the death sentence be removed from the statute books. It must be available to deal with those who might one day in the future be found guilty of treason and murder.