CAN THE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT JUSTIFY IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY?
Posted on April 18th, 2019

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

Narcotic has become a serious problem in the modern world as they are badly affected to human body as adherent substance in the one hand and the consumers and dealers of illicit drug do massive harmful to young generation and to the society in other hand. Many countries have passed legal provisions against the use of illicit drugs considering harmfulness to the human body as well as they have become a burden to the society.  The example of Sri Lanka and many other countries demonstrate that consuming and dealing with narcotic would support to creating a lawless society.  It seems that Sri Lanka has become a centre of distribution of various narcotic to other countries and international narcotic dealers have turned Sri Lanka to promote illicit drug business and crimes against the democratic rights of people.  Many countries have criminalized all activities associated with narcotic substances, some responsible members of Sri Lanka’s parliament (Mr Rajitha Senaratne) launched a campaign to decriminalize narcotic in the country without knowing the harmfulness of them not only to Sri Lanka but also to other countries in the world.

The dealing with all kind of narcotic substances such as consuming and using as a business device have been banned by the world and some countries wherein an uncontrollable illicit drug problem has imposed capital punishment for consuming as well as association with distribution. Middle Eastern and Asian countries have severe punishments for consuming and dealing with narcotic.   The president of Philippines insisted capital punishment to people associated with illicit drugs in absence of a trial and as a result of this decision, it has recorded that more than 3000 people who associated with illicit drugs were subject to capital punishment or on the spot death.  It is a topic that internationally debating, we can express views on the decision of the president of Philippines, but have no ability to revert the decision of the president as it specifically related to a serious problem of the country. I spoke to several citizens of Philippines in different countries, they agree with the decision of the president as the narcotic is an austere problem affecting to day to day life of ordinary people in Philippines.

Australian Institute of Criminology has published an excellent paper, Polas and Walker (1987), Capital Punishment: Trends and Issues, Crime and Criminal Justice No 3, Canberra (www.aic.gov.au) and the paper described that the term capital punishment is derived from caput, meaning head.  It originally referred to death by decapitation, but now applies generally to state sanctioned execution. Recently, the President of Sri Lanka has publicly stated that he will sanction the execution of drug dealers who were punished by the court of justice after a fair trial. The intention of president of Sri Lanka cannot be compared to public execution of drug offenders by the president of Philippines because the statement of Sri Lanka’s president is a punishment within the legal framework. Therefore, the intention of the president of Sri Lanka and the practice of the president of Philippines has a vast difference and the practice of the Philippines cannot be implemented in Sri Lanka, which is a Buddhist country, and all religions in Sri Lanka cogitate killing a person is a sin for any reason, and there might be a convincing opposition to killing drug dealers on roads or public.

However, the statement of the president of Sri Lanka to sanction state execution for drug dealers has composed a sharp debate from different point of views and some religious leaders have expressed their opinion, but such opinion may not be an authentic decision of the religious organizations. Why the president of Sri Lanka openly expresses his intention to introduce capital punishment, to attract popularity or any other purpose is a question to public, and it might be a dubious decision or an intention. Another vital point is that did the president consult his own cabinet or the parliament before take the decision and what were the response of them.  The president is a democratic institution, and before make decisions he should consult or get approval from the relevant institutions, and it is the good governance.  His predecessor, Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa consulted the cabinet and other relevant authorities and neighbouring countries before making decisions in many instances.  Why the current president has departed from the practice of previous president?  In a moralize society, making a statement on sanctioning state execution should not be a behaviour of a leader, is my opinion.  It is not a cause for attracting personal popularity.       

In terms of criminal law, the purpose of punishment is to prevent a person further engage in wrong doing.  A punishment may achieve or may not be achieved the purpose. According to the common experience, it has seen that many wrong doers were given punishments but after the period of punishment they reengage in committing crimes, many feels that punishments have not prevented wrong doings. Practically in Sri Lanka, illicit drug offenders were punished by the court, nevertheless, these criminals recommenced criminal behaviour while staying in the jail. How and why they are happening if there are an efficient and effective administration is in jail administration the country. For this situation, administrators including the president of Sri Lanka are responsible.  

The deterrence theory further aims at punishing to drug offenders with jail sentence to off the opportunity to committing crimes.  According to the theory of deterrence in criminal law, people generally believe that when drug offenders deter, drug business will stop but the reality in Sri Lanka is that after the punishment, drug criminals reiterate wrong doing same as the way or more vigorously killing the judge or personnel in law enforcement authority.  It is a really concern experience in Sri Lanka compared to other countries. The minister responsible for jail administration has publicly expressed that officers in jail as well as personnel in law enforcement authority are associated with the narcotic business dealers. This statement proves that Sri Lanka has a weak law enforcement authority and jail administration, which are not supported to control illicit drugs in the country.

The illicit drug problem in Sri Lanka is a management related problem in the country, which needs effective controls and management methods.  Many expressed views that government politicians, henchmen of them, top brass of the government and civil society activists sophisticatedly linked to drug business and obviously, it seems that current weakness in political administration is responsible for the problem.  In order to get out of owned weakness for formulating right strategies to control drug problem, president talks on imposing capital punishment, which is rejected by democratic world, is not a competent administration and a behaviour of responsible president elected by the votes of people.

 In Sri Lanka a wide spread talking point or a gossip was, that originally abolished capital punishment was re-established after the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, and the capital punishment was given to the assassinator, Rev. Talduwe Somarama was not the real assassinator, but some other person did it, and the exterminator disguised with the support of the law enforcement authority. This means that it is a quite difficult task to detect the real criminals to give capital punishment and the best option is to consider other method of punishment for drug criminals.  It does not mean that the system of justice should ignore the offence, but to use alternative strategy.

Many countries have controlled illicit drug problems using effective strategies and techniques. Local drug problem in Sri Lanka is basically related to consuming or use of drug, which can be controlled by using multiple methods such as educating about drugs and harmful effects of drugs to individuals and the society.  Sri Lanka has a history of small-scale drug business in villages. Opium and cannabis business had been operated in Sri Lanka since beginning of human being in the country. Opium business had been operated in villages by small scale Indian businessmen, who illegally migrated to Sri Lanka and used opium as a business device to quickly achieving enrichment.  Sri Lanka is not growing the plants which use to produce opium (Popi plant) or cocaine (Koki Plant).  Sri Lanka Politics and education in in the country did not focus to control such business in the past.  Therefore, Sri Lanka has an ideal environment for illicit drug and alcohol business and consumption.     In many countries, drug education is a part of school curriculum and lots of resources are spent for this purpose.  Sri Lanka needs vigorous campaign on drug education not only in schools but also to young generation who are out of schools. The government needs funding for advertisements against drug in newspapers, radio and TVs.

Another vital aspect of narcotic and illicit alcohol in Sri Lanka is that traditional people treated cannabis as a medicinal plant and many Ayurveda doctor use cannabis and opium for production of medicines in various forms. History recoded that illicit alcohol used in the war between King Dutugemunu and Elara. Many traditional employees such as toddy tappers, coconut husk removers, coconut pickers and many hard labour workers used opium as a pain killer and sleeping chemical. In the recent past, many Ayurveda doctors got caught using cannabis and opium for making medicines for Asma and other common deceases.  In villages, women use cannabis to soften village rooster’s meat. Religions did not address the issue.  Catholic priests appreciated with illicit alcohol producers and dealers who contributed funds for church festivals.  Cannabis dealers associated with Buddhist temples and religious leaders reluctant to openly talk about narcotic and alcohol business, the stand of religion now has radically changed and openly talk against illicit drugs and all religions in the country have commence drug education programs.

People should be vigilant on drug traffickers.  During the LTTE war people were highly concerned on explosive and similar way, people need concern on drug traffickers and inform about the suspicious people to law enforcement authority.   

Capital punishment from the point of views of religion may not be justified due to various points. According to Christianity humans are creation of God and human have no right to make judgment to destroy a creature of God.  This is a complex argument because human make decisions to destroy animal, plants, which are also creatures of God.  Because of some people do wrong things, it doesn’t warrant to kill them.  For example, Adam and Eva believed to be the first human were created by God and when they committed the original sin, God could have given a punishment to kill them and end human being in this world, but God never done it. Instead of destroying creation God sent his own son (Jesus Christ) to this world to save human being sacrificing his life and to educate people to get away from bad habits and sins. Therefore, Christianity doesn’t agree with the capital punishment for drug or any other kind of offenders.

Buddhism also does not agree with capital punishment as a killing of a person regards as a Karma, which is sorrow in metempsychosis transmigrating one life to other and Buddhism would not agree with the capital punishment. In Hinduism, it is a controversy, in terms of Bagawarh Geetha, if God has not sanctioned, a killing a person is regarded as Karma. Islam also against killing people.  In this religious background, capital punishment is not approved by religions in Sri Lanka and the president’s decision for the capital punishment for drug offenders would not be justified by any religion operating in Sri Lanka.   

3 Responses to “CAN THE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT JUSTIFY IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY?”

  1. Randeniyage Says:

    QUOTE- Buddhism also does not agree with capital punishment as a killing of a person regards as a Karma, which is sorrow in metempsychosis transmigrating one life to other and Buddhism would not agree with the capital punishment-UNQUOTE
    The meaning of Karma (Kamma in Pali) means action. Every action of a non-enlightened being will fuel the Samrasa, not only killing(which is also a action, a bad action). There is no “metempsychosis transmigrating one life to other”. The writer must educate himself. Ref. 38 Maha-Thanhasankhaya Sutta where Buddha himself clearly refuted exactly the same thing.

    QUOTE – Local drug problem in Sri Lanka is basically related to consuming or use of drug, which can be controlled by using multiple methods such as educating about drugs and harmful effects of drugs to individuals and the society. UNQUOTE
    Again, I regret our problem can be understood by observing that even the highest office in our country coming to rescue a drug lord. This is not about people consuming drugs. Muslim community raised their head because of drug business since 1990’s, thanks to Sinhala Buddhist turning away from Buddhism, not having basic Buddhist faith( by understanding logical truth in (own action) Kamma and Samsaric Dukkha. Our nation completely lost moral fear and moral shame ( Hiri , Ottappa) – we are huge liars if we declare Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country – our highest office are Hindus who worship Thirupathy.
    We have lost out country, nation and religion.

  2. Randeniyage Says:

    Killing , stealing, adultery, lying and taking intoxication are action declared as ” unconditionally bad action” by Buddha. Other religions too generally consider as bad action but not “unconditional”.
    I haven’t studied Hinduism in detail to describe what it says regarding bad action. Islam in fact encourages killing of enemy of Islam and/or God (even non-believers ( Islam only ?)) , so is Christianity ( although no direct statement unlike Koran, some statements in the bible imply this) AND more importantly, these religions state that by surrendering to God , acknowledging wrong doing and asking forgiveness , not from the victim but from the God.
    This invariably allows one to do whatever bad action to gather wealth until 80 years old and then wash away the “SINS”. In Buddhism , only way to prevent full brunt of “Vipaka” or results of bad action is to end Samsara without getting another birth but this is almost impossible nowadays and still need to undergo substantial physical pain. (e.g. Angulimala). This is the very reason all our so called “Buddhists” politicians steal the public wealth- they actually do not believe Buddhism.
    However, Buddha did not stop any of his follower kings from giving death penalty. Buddha did not get involved in politics. However, “Dasa Raja Drama” includes “non-harm”(Ahimsa) and it implies a “Dhramishta” king cannot give death penalty.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other philosophies/religions must not be considered in statecraft and law and order. Those are completely different matters.

    Capital punishment is well enshrined in democracies – Japan, USA, Singapore, Sri Lanka (when there was law and order), etc.

    We must carryout the death penalty. It is already in the law. No one wants to change the law. The issue is implementation of it or not. It must be implemented as specified in the law.

    Ancient Sri Lanka ruled by Buddhist kings had death penalty. Time to bring it back in a less cruel manner.

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