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Commission urges abolition of the death penalty

Graphic: Man sits in prison cell

In a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, the Commission noted that courts continue to impose the death penalty under several statutes.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has urged President Maithripala Sirisena to abolish the death penalty in Sri Lanka "in keeping with Sri Lanka's commitment to a more humane society consonant with human rights principles and values".

In its letter to the President, the Commission said the death penalty seriously violates several human rights including the right to life and freedom from cruel and inhuman punishment; is an extreme and irreversible punishment; and is ineffective as a deterrent to crime.

While successive governments in Sri Lanka have not implemented the death penalty since 1976, the Commission noted that courts continue to impose the death penalty under several statutes, including the Penal Code and the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance as amended by Act No. 13 of 1984.

"ln view of international and comparative jurisprudence, the Commission agrees with the position that the death penalty amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and fails to respect the sanctity of human life," Commission Chairperson Dr Deepika Udagama said.

The Commission also argued in the letter that:

  • There is no empirical data to show that death penalty has caused a reduction in crime or has a deterrent effect on crime
  • In view of the serious flaws which exist in the criminal justice system, coupled with Sri Lanka not having a process to reopen a criminal case after exhausting the appeals procedures, there is a serious risk of a miscarriage of justice
  • There is a greater chance that accused persons from underprivileged circumstances would be more prone to be subjected to the death penalty than those who have the financial means to hire competent counsel.

"Sri Lanka should demonstrate its commitment to the sanctity of life and fundamental human rights principles by joining the more than 100 nations in the world that have abolished the death penalty thus far. Another 60 countries do not carry out death sentences in practice," Dr Udagama said.

"For all of the above reasons the Human Rights Commission recommends that Sri Lanka ratifies the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and abolishes the death penalty forthwith. The death penalty should be substituted with periods of imprisonment that befit the seriousness of each crime."

The full letter is available on the website of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

Date: 10 January 2015

Source: Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

Image credits

  1. Man sits in prison cell - APF/Michael Power