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The Death Penalty

The recent statement made by President Maithreepala Sirisena on his intentions in authorizing
executions for Drug criminals let to a widespread discussion on the death penalty and its human
rights aspect.
The debate on the death sentence is not confined to Sri Lanka. It has been in discussions for
decades in the international platforms by many stakeholders such as judges, legislators, human
rights activists, citizens, families of victims and etc. These conversations, debates and arguments
have raised issues such as; Does it deter crime? Should government satisfy society’s desire for
hatred against these criminals? What is the cost of such executions? Does Narcotic criminals
deserve death sentence? Are they capable of redemption? Is the current method of execution
humane? Isn't there a risk of executing the innocent? and etc. Internationally these arguments have
concluded with evidence that death penalty does not deter crime and it is a cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment. Instead recommends an effective police force, schools, and
social services.

But the conversations within social media, the occasional clips that appear in the news presents
that there seem to exist high number of Sri Lankans supporting this decision of the president. Does
this imply that these citizens are inhuman? unethical? or has no respect to justice? Before forming
opinion of those who are supporting the death sentence it is important to understand the social
political context where these thoughts stems.
President Sirisena's statement clearly states that although criminals are imprisoned they are quite
capable of continuing crime while being confined to the prison walls. This questions the reliability
and the efficiency of the system of justice.
Looking at the Sri Lanka Police crime abstract for 2017, the number of cases resoled are in
question. from the total number of 38,844 true cases reported, only 7,284 are disposed while 28,560
remains pending. The situation was no different in several subsequent years. The crime reports do
not outline the number of cases of 2016 that are resolved in 2017 where the continued pending
nature can be mapped a bit more clearly. The prevailing gaps in the legal system, political
interference, and other factors have led to accumulation of pending cases of crimes. Electronic,
Press and Web-based media have been reporting on incidents of citizens taking law to their hands
to punish the guilty. Perhaps we might be able to draw direct correlation between the inefficiency
and the subsequent loss of trust in the justice system.
The guilty people deserve to be punished in proportion to the severity of the crime is a common
belief throughout the world. Many feels justice can only be achieved when the actors of crime
suffer and this suffering is witnessed. Many also feels that this brings harmony for the facilities of
the victims and is able to forget the injustice they've faced. Therefore, when the justice seems
hardly visible and the crime rates are increasing many will tend to feel the ultimate solution to end
all crime is the imposition of the death sentence. Little only will they understand that the Execution
is a lethal form of state control and has been used by many authoritarian states to eliminate political
opponents, critiques and etc.
The journey towards abolishing the Death Sentence has not been easy. According to the Death
Sentences & Executions Global Report 2017, Amnesty International reports, more than two thirds
of the countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice. As of 31
December 2017, the recorded total abolitionist in law or practice is 142.

China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan are the highest rankers since 2014 to date. Although
the Chinese government treats these figures as state secrets, Amnesty International assumes
thousands are being executed in China every year. The USA continued to be the only country that
practices execution in the region. However, when compared to the 39 executions in 2013, the
number has been gradually declining. By 2017 USA has carried out only 23 executions.
When looking at the number of executions since 2012 it is difficult to determine, if either the
practice of Death Sentence or the number of crimes is declining. When compared to 2012 by 2015
there is a 952 increase and by 2017 a 311 increase in the number of executions. Neither the number
of executions nor the number of countries that carry out executions have reached declined to the
level of 2012. Although these executions are expected to instill fear on the future criminals, how
far has the death sentence been successful in cultivating this fear culture must be examined.
Year Executions # Countries #
2017 993 23
2016 1,032 23
2015 1,634 25
2014 607 (excluding china) 22
2013 778 22
2012 682 21

The constant cries for an authoritarian leader like Singapore, and "citizens call to impose the death
sentence" must be understood in the light of the lack of faith in the justice system. The government
and all related stakeholders such as judges, lawyers, human rights activists, policy makers, and etc.
should consider to work towards in improving the existing systems and introducing new laws to
address the existing gaps.