Sri Lanka: President urged to prevent return to death penalty after 29-year moratorium

Sri Lanka's Justice Ministry and the Attorney General have recently recommended that three people convicted in 1999 for a notorious abduction and killing should be executed.

The Sri Lankan prisons chief Rumy Marzook has recently been quoted as saying that there were some 100 prisoners on death row and that everything was now ready for the gallows to be put into operation.

The last execution in Sri Lanka was carried out in June 1976 and since then consecutive presidents have automatically commuted all death sentences.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said:

'We are appealing to President Kumaratunga to show leadership and stand firm in maintaining Sri Lanka's moratorium on its of the death penalty.

'A return to gallows justice in Sri Lanka would be a step backwards, reversing significant progress Sri Lanka has made in protecting and promoting human rights.'

The human rights organisation believes that in past decades Sri Lanka has been one of the Asian countries that has set an example in the region by rejecting the death penalty and the reactivation proposed by the Justice Ministry and Attorney General would break with that tradition, as well as with the international trend towards abolition of the death penalty.

Amnesty International recognises that Sri Lanka has for some time been facing an increase in serious crime and that the state must respond to this. However, the death penalty violates human rights and there is no proof that it is a more effective deterrent to crime than imprisonment.

The case prompting current Justice Ministry and the Attorney General support for the death penalty concerns the rape and murder of Rita John.

Amnesty International recognises that this was a horrific crime and that those responsible must be punished. However, no matter how terrible the crime, as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, the death penalty can never be justified.

On 20 November 2004 the Office of the President announced that the death penalty would be reactivated, stating that 'the death penalty will be effective from today for rape, murder and narcotics dealings.'

In response to this disturbing announcement, Amnesty International wrote to the President urging her not to reactivate the death penalty and proposing the appointment of a commission to study the apparent rise in criminality in Sri Lanka and make recommendations for effective measures which could be taken without resort to the death penalty.

Similar proposals were made to the Sri Lankan government by Amnesty International in March 2003 and March 1999.

In June 2001, the then Minister of Justice had indicated his interest in commissioning such a study. During a meeting with an Amnesty International delegation visiting Sri Lanka in June 2002, the President promised to continue the practice of automatically commuting all death sentences that came before her.

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