Sri Lanka: President must halt 13 imminent executions for drug-related crimes

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena must immediately halt plans to execute at least 13 prisoners convicted of drug-related crimes, Amnesty International said today.

Preparations are reportedly underway to execute death row prisoners as part of the so-called National Drug Eradication Week, between June 21 and July 1. The executions would be the first in Sri Lanka since 1976.

While no official announcement has been made by the President’s Office, several sources have confirmed to Amnesty that newly-recruited executioners have been trained and that President Sirisena intends to resume hangings soon.

Executions for drug-related offences are unlawful. They do not meet the threshold for “most serious crimes” – such as intentional killing – to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international human rights law.

It is not clear what the circumstances of their convictions and sentencing are. By keeping these plans secret, the Sri Lankan government is preventing access to vital information to ensure that vital safeguards put in place by the international community to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty are fully observed.

Amnesty has repeatedly called on President Sirisena to halt his plans to resume executions, making clear that the death penalty does not have a unique deterrent effect on crime.

In a recently-published briefing, Sri Lanka: Halt Preparations to Resume Executions, Amnesty highlighted how the death penalty in Sri Lanka is being used in circumstances that violate international law and standards, has failed to act as a unique deterrent to crime in other countries, could claim the lives of people who may have been convicted through unfair trials, and could disproportionately affect people from minority and less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International, said:

“We are dismayed by these reports that will see Sri Lanka surrender its positive record on the death penalty. Executions will not rid Sri Lanka of drug-related crime.

“They represent the failure to build a humane society where the protection of life is valued. The last thing that Sri Lanka needs right now is more death in the name of vengeance.

“The taking of a human life by the state is one of the gravest acts a government can commit. The severity of the punishment as a minimum requires complete transparency as a key safeguard of due process.”

International standards violated

States have a duty to ensure all proceedings have complied with international standards for a fair trial, including respecting the right to appeal and apply for clemency, and ensuring that the prisoners, their families and legal representatives are given adequate notice of any plans to carry out the execution. It is not clear that this process has been followed in these cases.

Amnesty absolutely opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, and is calling on the Sri Lankan government to halt all execution plans and establish an official moratorium on the implementation of death sentences with a view to abolishing the death penalty altogether. 

Sri Lanka is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which sets the abolition of the death penalty as the goal to be achieved by countries that still retain this punishment.

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