Colombo Telegraph

The Death Penalty: Is The Price Of Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty USD 350 Milloin?

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

President Sirisena’s announcement of his intention of implementing the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers has become the latest hot topic in the capital.

Capital punishment has not been carried out in the country since 1976, and those handed the death sentence have been routinely commuted to life imprisonment.     

Protests are loudest from Human Rights groups followed by some civil society and religious groups.

The latest group to object is the European Union (EU). Their objections have been jointly communicated to President Sirisena by their ambassadors in Colombo. 

It has been reported, EU has threatened to withdraw the Generalized Scheme of Preference (GSP+) facility in the event of Sri Lanka implementing capital punishment. 

Over fifty countries in the world including the USA (in 31 out of 50 states), China, Japan, and India retain capital punishment.

According to an Amnesty International report, China executed more people than the rest of the world combined last year for a range of offenses including murder and corruption.

Japan, on July 06, executed the former leader of a doomsday cult and six other members of the group that carried out a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 13 commuters.

A total of twenty-six executions have taken place in India since 1991, the most recent being in 2015. The lone surviving gunman from the three-day attack on Mumbai in November 2008 was hanged in 2012. The Indian Cabinet, in April, approved the introduction of the death penalty for those convicted of raping children below the age of 12 years.

EU Merchandise Trade, (goods which add or subtract from the stock of material resources of a country by entering / imports or leaving/exports its economic territory) with USA, China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka in 2017 is found in illustration 1.

Illustration 1 Merchandise Trade

value in Euro/billions  

EU Surplus / Deficit

in Euro/billions

EU / USA 632 119
EU / China 573 (176)
EU / Japan 129 (8)
EU / India 86 (2.5)
EU / Sri Lanka 4.4 (1)


Notwithstanding the moral high ground adopted by EU in the case of Sri Lanka, it has no compunction in benefitting from trading in billions of Euro, despite capital punishment being a legal penalty in USA, China, Japan, and India (besides many others).

Pakistan has sent 465 prisoners to the gallows since the moratorium on executions was lifted in December 2014. There is no record of EU Ambassadors in Islamabad registering any opposition, and its GSP+ facility was extended for a further two years in early 2018. 

EU’s objections in the case of Sri Lanka is but the manifestation of abject hypocrisy and another example of country-specific penalization similar to the Geneva Resolution.  

Sri Lanka supposedly derives considerable benefits from GSP+ especially in Food/Raw Materials and Textiles/Clothing. Its total exports, Food/Raw Materials and Textiles/Clothing between 2013 and 2017 are found in illustration 2.

Illustration 2 Sri Lankan Exports

in Euro/billions  

Food/Raw Materials

in Euro/millions

Textile/Raw Materials

In Euro/millions

2013 2.3 330 1,391
2014 2.5 357 1,575
2015 2.6 347 1,715
2016 2.6 374 1,594
2017 2.7 438 1,664


In 2010, EU made the continuation of GSP+ facility conditional to Sri Lanka ratifying 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance. It amounts to subjecting the nation’s political and legal framework to the supervision by EU. The facility was withdrawn due to the refusal by the previous administration to agree to such draconian conditions.

The present administration, having agreed to EU conditions was able to have the facility restored in May 2017. Only at the end of one calendar year would it be possible to evaluate if the expected boom in return for accepting Brussels’ suzerainty has materialized. 

The issue of capital punishment in Sri Lanka is necessarily a matter for its citizens. President Sirisena would no doubt give due consideration to views expressed by different interest groups. The current situation is; if citizens of this country endorse the implementation of the death penalty even through the democratic process of a referendum, it can not be implemented without the concurrence of EU. 

The EU should bear in mind, it is such infringement on the sovereignty of nations which led to Brexit and possibility of a few more members decamping soon. 

The net monetary gain to Sri Lanka from GSP+ is estimated at USD 350 million.

Is the price of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty USD 350 million?

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