Posted on July 1st, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala

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” 

  • Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International (AI), in a final appeal from the international body  to Sri Lanka concerning the imminent execution of some prisoners on the death row for drug related crimes/June 25, 2019/www.amnesty.org 

It is reported that the president has signed the death warrants of some condemned prisoners awaiting execution, having been convicted for drug-related offences, and that all arrangements are now in place for hanging them before the June 21 – July 1 National Drug Eradication Week ends. As that period is drawing to a close, the hangings must be considered imminent. I hope the condemned persons are still alive when you read this (which I am writing on June 28). However, it is not too late for the president to desist from the rash course of action he has decided on. As AI’s South Asia Director Biraj Patnaik says executions will not rid Sri Lanka of drug-related crime. Patnaik is expressing a commonsense view, which many people share. The damning criticism implicit in the rest of the extract quoted above, though baseless, should not be taken lightly.  The president doesn’t seem to have consulted his advisors about the matter (which is a costly waste of resources). Decisions can be retracted if later found to be erroneous, but deaths are not reversible once committed, if it is subsequently discovered that they resulted from a miscarriage of justice. If someone must be executed as a judicial necessity for crimes committed, so be it. But there need not be an unexplained hurry or suddenness in executing them, as in this case there obviously is. 

It is true that Sri Lanka has a devastatingly  serious drugs problem. It must and can be contained as demonstrated in the past, until total eradication is achieved. The surest way is to enforce the law strictly, rehabilitate addicts and traffickers, break the nexus between politicians and drug dealers, and the rest of a whole host of measures as advocated by relevant experts and law enforcement specialists. It will be a never ending process like normal policing. The president’s avowed commitment to the eradication of the menace is commendable. However, his mission is doomed by what has become the order of the day since 2015: politicizing and personalising all issues from constitution making to crime busting. The current rulers do this for the dual purpose of just staying on in power ignoring the ‘Curses, not loud, but deep’ of the masses that elected them to power, now disillusioned, and of keeping their rivals out of power, or even out of politics if possible. Some reflection will show the impartial observer that little more than that has happened in Sri Lanka since 2015.

After a visit to the Philippines where the president met with his counterpart there the formidable Duterte who has adopted some drastic measures to overcome a hopelessly severe domestic drug addiction and trafficking problem in his country with a population of more than 100 million to Sri Lanka’s 21 million, he has decided to take a leaf out of the latter’s book. That won’t do. There are huge differences between the two countries, their peoples, cultures and especially the personalities of the two leaders. A tiny quail can’t match an elephant in the size of its droppings, as the Sinhala saying goes. However, the most significant difference between the two must be mentioned. Duterte stood up to the US president when the latter expressed concern about his merciless campaign against the problem that resulted in thousands of summary executions; and he launched his controversial operations without thinking of its political fallout on himself; and the other thing is that Duterte enjoys more recognition than the Sri Lankan president at the UN as a substantially large contributor of funds to the world body. In contrast, the sudden intensification of the fight on the drug menace in Sri Lanka seems to have been motivated by a desire to salvage at least the semblance of credibility that the champion thinks he still has. 

But one cannot become a hero by hanging, be it hanging for killing oneself, for carrying out judicial execution or for committing plain murder. But the lame duck president, at the tail end of his disastrous presidency, seems determined to go on with the hangings, come hell or high water, for that ‘heroic’ purpose. And in effect, he will be doing all three in an utterly meaningless ‘suicide hanging’ (on the analogy of suicide bombing), if such a thing is conceivable by any stretch of the imagination. Circumstances, for most of which he must share responsibility with his Yahapalana partners, have paradoxically lulled him into a state of self-hypnosis induced by a Macbethian sense of false security. 

The sudden ending of the thirty-three year long moratorium on the death penalty (there hasn’t been an execution since 1976 in Sri Lanka) as a desperate measure is not likely to cause the war on drugs to gain any special traction among the public other than what is already there. The reason is that, although the drug problem is a crucial issue, there are immediately more pressing problems to be addressed  before that, such as the problem of threatened national security that came to light with the April 21 Easter Sunday bombings, which, according to opposition politicians, could be a harbinger of worse trouble from geopolitical players in the region.

It will be a more dignified thing for the president to do to listen to the advice of the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras and that of His Eminence the Cardinal to call off the executions than to seem to accede to the demand of the AI which has always had a jaundiced view of Sri Lanka due to false propaganda to ‘Halt plans for executions, once and for all’. However, though Amnesty International, as a pro-Western organization, is a biased entity as far as Sr Lanka is concerned, its request on this occasion is not unreasonable. 

5 Responses to “HANGING TO HANG ON”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Actually one can become a great hero by hanging and killing.

    This was how Dutugemunu, Parakramabahu, Wijayabahu, Mahinda, Gotabaya, Fonseka, etc. became heros – by killing. Thanks to their action we live in relative peace.

    Sirisena will not win the next presidential election but what he does at least now is the right thing to do (provided he carries it out).

    All political clans are opposed to hanging convicted grave criminals not because they are opposed to taking lives (all of them have taken lives) but because of the money and political affiliation of the extended narcotics industry sustaining these parties. Selling Buddhism to save criminals is an established practice. This doesn’t work in more civilised countries.

    If the country is run according to the EU and AI, why not become their subejct once again?

  2. Hiranthe Says:

    If My3 goes ahead with this hanging of Criminals who infested this blessed land with Drugs, as he declares, I salute him for the first time!!

    Show the world we are an independent nation. We have our own problems and we solve our way. keep away from us EU. You were waiting to divide this country but when failed, you are happy for the younger generation to perish with drugs…

    It is another way of supporting the destruction of Mother Lanka.

    Keep it up My3 Sir!!

  3. Vaisrawana Says:

    Isn’t it clear that, by ‘hanging’, the writer means hanging for its own sake?

  4. Vaisrawana Says:

    By the way, one commenter has revised their comment, another has deleted theirs. Somewhat intriguing.

  5. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    People oppose to death penalty are those who are scared they will face that fate one day. Did you notice traitor
    chief die hard catholic token Buddhist Batalande wa(n)dakaya is dead against it? Wonder why it should worry
    so much, it’s only a few thousand Sinhalese Buddhists (not a war crime by UN, AI etc. etc standards anyway),
    few mega robberies, a few mega treacheries, a few mega lies.

    All drug dealers should be hanged since their chosen profession is make easy money and poison people. Drug
    dealing is a premeditated crime and deserve the gallows. Only snag is puppet the vairapala sorrysena, who is
    ‘famous’ for keeping his word, you can not be certain until it is done.

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