Sri Lanka: Halt executions, Mr. President
Sri Lanka’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, should halt his plans to resume executions after more than four decades to execute at least 13 people for drug-related crimes, Amnesty International said today.
In an open letter published today, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Kumi Naidoo, urges President Sirisena to fulfil Sri Lanka’s international commitments, respect the right to life, and shun executions that have been proven to have a unique deterrent effect on crime.
“Executions, Mr. President, are not a show of strength but an admission of weakness,” Kumi Naidoo writes in the open letter. “They represent the failure to create a society where the protection of the right to life triumphs over the temptations of vengeance.”
“For those of us who believe that human life must hold the highest value, taking it away is the lowliest act. We understand this clearly when a person commits murder, but we choose to forget it when the state puts someone to death, inflicting the same pain and loss on others who bear no responsibility for the crime.”
Extensive criminological studies have demonstrated that the death penalty has no unique deterrent effect. The similar-sized cities of Hong Kong and Singapore have taken different paths. Hong Kong abolished the death penalty more than half a century ago, while Singapore retains it. The murder rate in both cities, however, has remained remarkably similar.
Even in countries that retain the death penalty, Kumi Naidoo points out in his letter, “there is a growing recognition that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent for drug-related crimes.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been one of the world’s most prolific executioners, putting thousands of people to death. In recognition of this fact, Iran has now amended its drug laws, resulting in a significant decrease in executions of people convicted of drug-related offences.
Kumi Naidoo also warned Sri Lanka against pursuing the path of the Philippines, which President Sirisena recently visited and has applauded as an example to follow.
“Under President Rodrigo Duterte,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General writes, there has been “a horrific wave of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug offenders over the past three years.”
“Far from ridding the streets of crime, this murderous campaign has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people – including dozens of children – in what may amount to crimes against humanity.”
The killings in the Philippines, which have overwhelmingly targeted people living in impoverished neighbourhoods, are currently the subject of a preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.
In the open letter, Amnesty International urges the President Sirisena to:
- Immediately halt plans to execute at least 13 people, and review all cases of people under sentence of death with a view to commuting their sentences to terms of imprisonment
- Establish an official moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty, in line with seven resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly since 2007, including most recently resolution 73/175 of 17 December 2018 which Sri Lanka supported
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