Death Penalty

මරණ දඬුවම: අධිකරණමය ඝාතන සඳහා වන අවසර පත්‍රය

First published on Anidda newspaper of 7th July 2019 and then at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=35292 also on 7th July 2019

පසුගිය වසරේ ඔක්තෝම්බර් 02 වන දා ඉරානය විසින් සෙයිනබ් සෙකාන්වාද් නමැති 24 හැවිරිදි කාන්තාවක් මරණ දඬුවමට පැමිණෙව්වේ ඇය සිය ළමා කාලයේ සිදු කළැයි කියා චෝදනා එල්ල වූ වරදක් සම්බන්ධයෙනි. ජාත්‍යන්තර නීතිය යටතේ ඇයව මරණ දඬුවමෙන් නිදහස් කළ යුතුව තිබිණි. ඇය අනෙකුත් බොහෝ ළමා මනාලියන් මෙන්ම ස්ත්‍රී-පුරුෂ සමාජභාවය පදනම් කර ගත් ප්‍රචණ්ඩත්වයෙන් දිවි බේරාගත් අයෙකු විය. දුප්පත් සහ ගතානුගතික පවුලක උපන් ඇය ව වයස අවුරුදු 15දී විවාහ කර දී තිබුනේ හිංසාකාරී සහ ප්‍රචණ්ඩකාරී පිරිමියෙකුට ය. තමාව නැවත නැවතත් දූෂණයට ලක්කළ තම සැමියාගෙන් සහ මස්සිනාගෙන් තමාව ආරක්ෂා කර දෙන ලෙස දෙමාපියන් සහ අදාළ බලධාරීන්ගෙන් ඇය අයැද සිටි නමුත් ඒවාට ඇහුම්කන්දීමක් සිදුනොවීය.  වයස අවුරුදු 17දී ඇය ඇගේ සැමියා මරණයට පත්කොට තිබුණ අතර පොලිසියේ දරුණු වධහිංසා හමුවේ සෙයිනබ් තමා එම අපරාධය කළ බවට පාපොච්චාරණය කළාය. අවසානයේ ඇය වෙනුවෙන් නීතීඥවරියක පත්කළ පසු නඩු විභාගයේදී තමා පෙර කළ පාපොච්චාරණය ඉල්ලා අස්කරගත්ත ද, ඒ වනවිට ඇය ඉතා ප්‍රමාද විය: ඇයට මරණ දඬුවම නියම කෙරිණ.

ඇලිස් නුන්ගු තම හිංසාකාරී සැමියාගේ බීමත් ප්‍රහාරවලින් තමා සහ තම මහලු මව බේරාගැනීම ට උත්සාහ කරන අතරතුර ඔහුව මරණයට පත්කිරීම නිසා මරණ දඬුවමට නියම කෙරුණ මලාවියානු කාන්තාවකි. ඇයට මරණ දඬුවම නියම වීමට පෙර වසර ගණනාවක් තිස්සේ ඇය දරා ගත් අධික හිංසාවන් ගැන අවධානය යොමු කළ අධිකරණය අවසානයේ 2015 දී ඇයව වහාම නිදහස් කරන්නට නියෝග කරන ලදී.  HIV ආසාදිතව, අනුකම්පා විරහිත ජීවන තත්ත්වයන් යටතේ සහ ආහාර හිඟකමින් පීඩා විදිමින් ඇයට මරණ දඬුවමට කැප ලැයිස්තුවේ වසර 12ක් පුරා කල්මරන්නට සිදුව තිබිණි. නිදහස් වීමෙන් සති කිහිපයකට පසුව තම මව සමීපයේ දී ඇලිස් මියගියා ය.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මරණ දඬුවමට නියම කෙරුණ ලැයිස්තුවේ කාන්තාවන් සිටිය ද එසේ මරණ දඬුවමට මුහුණදෙන ඔවුන්ගේ ස්ත්‍රී පුරුෂ සමාජභාවය මත පදනම් වූ විවිධ මාන ගැන එතරම් තොරතුරු සොයාගැනීමට නොහැක. නමුත් අන්තර්ජාතික පර්යේෂණ පෙන්නුම් කරන ආකාරයට මරණ දඬුවමට ලක් කෙරෙන කාන්තාවන් ස්ත්‍රී පුරුෂ සමාජභාවය පිළිබඳ අගතිගාමී අදහස්වල බහුවිධ ආකාරයේ ගොදුරු බවට පත්වේ. ස්ත්‍රී පුරුෂ සමාජභාවය මත පදනම් වූ සමාජ සම්මතයන් කඩ කරන බවට පෙනී යන කාන්තාවන් වැඩි වශයෙන් මරණ දඬුවම ලැබීමට ඉඩ ඇති අතර, මිනීමැරීමේ අපරාධය සිදුකිරීම නිසා මරණ දඬුවමට නියම කෙරෙන බොහොමයක් කාන්තාවන් නිතරම පාහේ ස්ත්‍රී පුරුෂ සමාජභාවය මත පදනම් වූ ප්‍රචණ්ඩත්වය යන සන්දර්භය තුල තම පවුලේ සාමාජිකයින් මරා දැමීම සම්බන්ධව දඬුවම් ලැබූවන් ය. උදාහරණයක් ලෙස ජෝර්දානයේ මරණ දඬුවම හිමි කාන්තාවන් 16ක් අතුරෙන් එක්කෙනෙක් හැර අන් සියල්ලන්ම වරදකාරියන් කෙරුණේ හිංසාව පිණිස විභවයක් නිර්මාණය කරන සම්ප්‍රදායික බලයක් දරාසිටින සැමියෙකු, පියෙකු හෝ නැන්දම්මා කෙනෙකු වැනි පවුලේ සමීප සාමාජිකයෙකු මරාදැමීම නිසා ය.

පසුගිය ජුනි 14 වෙනිදා ඇමෙරිකා එක්සත් ජනපදයේ චාල්ස් රේ ෆින්ච් නමැත්තා සියලු චෝදනාවලින් නිදොස් කොට නිදහස් කෙරුණේ මරණ දඬුවම නියම කර වසර 43කට අනතුරුව ය. මේ වසරේම පෙර අවස්ථාවක, ඇමෙරිකා එක්සත් ජනපදයේ ක්ලිෆර්ඩ් විලියම්ස් නමැත්තා එසේ චෝදනාවලින් නිදහස් කෙරුණේ වසර 42කට පසුව ය. 1973 වසරේ පටන් පුද්ගලයින් 10 දෙනෙකු නිදොස් කොට නිදහස් කිරීම සඳහා වසර 30කට වඩා බැගින් කල් ගතව ඇත. ඔවුන් සියල්ලන්ම කළු ජාතිකයින් වූහ. එරට වසර 36ක් පුරා වාර්ෂිකව නිදොස් කොට නිදහස්වීම් ලැබූ පුද්ගලයින්ගේ සාමාන්‍ය අගය 4කට වැඩි අගයක පවතිද්දී එසේ නිදහස් වූ ලැයිස්තුවේ පිළිවෙළින් 165වෙනි සහ 166වෙනි පුද්ගලයින් වූවේ විලියම්ස් සහ ෆින්ච් ය. 2019 ජුනි 20 වන දින එම නිදහස් වීම සිදු වූයේ එරට 1500 වන පුද්ගලයා මරණ දඬුවම යටතේ මරා දැමීම සිදුවීමට ඉතා ආසන්නයේය.

 අධිකරණමය ඝාතන සඳහා ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ නව අවසරය

අවසන් වරට ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මරණ දඬුවම ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීම 1976 දී සිදු වී ඇති අතර එදා පටන් මරණ දඬුවම යොදාගැනීම සඳහා තාවකාලික තහනමක්  පැවත ඇත. අප නීතියේ මරණ දඬුවම සඳහා ප්‍රතිපාදන පැවතීම සහ අධිකරණය විසින් එසේ මරණ දඬුවම සඳහා නියම කිරීම් නිතිපතා සිදුවුවද 1976න් පසු සිටි ජනාධිපතිවරු මරණ දඬුවම සඳහා අවශ්‍ය වරෙන්තුව අත්සන් නොකළහ.

නමුත් වධහිංසාවට ගොදුරුවූවන් වෙනුවෙන් සහයෝගය දක්වන අන්තර්ජාතික දිනය යෙදුනු පසුගිය ජුනි 26 වෙනිදා මාධ්‍ය විසින් ප්‍රකාශ කළේ ජනාධිපති මෛත්‍රීපාල සිරිසේන වසර 43ක් පුරා ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ පෙර ජනාධිපතිවරුන් පවත්වාගෙන ආ තාවකාලික තහනම ඉවත්කරමින් කෲර, අමානුෂික සහ අවමන් සහගත දඬුවමක් වන මරණ දඬුවම නැවත ගෙන ඒමට කටයුතු කරන බවයි. පසුගිය වසර කිහිපය පුරා අධිකරණයෙන් බලාත්මක නොකෙරුනු ඝාතන සම්බන්ධව අපකීර්තියට පත් ශ්‍රී ලංකාව දැන් සිටින්නේ අධිකරණය විසින් බලාත්මක කරන ඝාතන සම්බන්ධයෙන් අපකීර්තියට පත්වීමට ඉතා ආසන්නයේය.

මරණ වරෙන්තුව සඳහා අත්සන් කෙරුණ පුද්ගලයින් 4 දෙනා කවුරුන්දැයි තවමත් නිවේදනය කොට නැත. මේ වසරේ ආරම්භයේදී මරණ දඬුවමට නියම වුණ ලැයිස්තුවේ නම් 1299ක් විය. ඔවුන් සියලුදෙනාත්, ඔවුන්ගේ පවුල්වල සාමාජික සාමාජිකාවනුත් ඔවුන් හෝ ඔවුන්ගේ ආදරණීයයන් එම පළමු නම් 4ට අයත්දැ’යි සහ ඔවුන්ගේ වාරය කොයි මොහොතේ පැමිණේදැයි බලවත් වේදනාවෙන් සහ කම්පනයෙන් සිටිනවා විය යුතුය. බන්ධනාගාර නිලධාරීන් උපුටා දක්වමින් මාධ්‍ය විසින් කියා සිටියේ මරණ දඬුවමට නියමව ඇති පුද්ගලයින් ආතතියට පත්ව, ආහාර නොගනිමින් සහ ක්ලාන්ත ගතියෙන් පෙළෙමින් කල් ගතකරන බවයි.

මරණ දඬුවමට විරුද්ධ විය යුත්තේ ඇයි ?

මරණ දඬුවම යනු නැවත හැරවිය නොහැකි වර්ගයේ දඬුවමකි. එසේ දඬුවම පැමිණවීමෙන් අනතුරුව මතුවෙන නව සාක්ෂි සලකා බැලීමට අවකාශයක් එය විසින් ලබා නොදෙන නිසාය. උදාහරණයක් ලෙස, නව තාක්ෂණය තුළින් සාක්ෂි විමසා බැලූ කල, යමෙකු වැරැදි විනිශ්චයක් හරහා අයුතු ලෙස වැරදිකරුවෙකු කර ඇතැයි පෙනී යා හැක. එසේ අයුතු ලෙස වරදකරුවෙකු වූ බව නව සාක්ෂි මගින් සනාථ වී දශක කිහිපයකට පසුව මරණ දඬුවමෙන් නිදහස් වුණ මිනිසුන් පිළිබඳව සිද්ධි ගණනාවක් ලොව පුරා වාර්තා වී ඇත. ශ්‍රී ලංකා මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසම පෙන්වා දෙන ආකාරයට ඇමෙරිකා එක්සත් ජනපදය, කැනඩාව සහ එක්සත් රාජධානිය යන රටවල අයුතු ලෙස වරදකරුවන් කෙරුණ පුද්ගලයින් පසු අවස්ථාවලදී මරණ දඬුවමෙන් නිදහස්ව ඇත. කොමිසමට අනුව, ඇමෙරිකා එක්සත් ජනපදයේ නඩුවක දී, අපරාධ කිහිපයකට වරදකරු කෙරුණ පුද්ගලයෙකු වසර 23කට පසු නිදහස් වී ඇත්තේ, පසු කලකදී අදාළ විමර්ශන නිලධාරියා සහ විනිසුරුවරයා තම දඬුවම් පැමිණවීම යුක්තිය නිසියාකාරව ඉටු නොවීමක් ලෙස ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමෙන් අනතුරුවය.

ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ නීති පද්ධතිය තුළ නඩු පැවරීමේදී නිර්දෝෂී පුද්ගලයින් වරදකරුවන් කෙරෙන ආකාරයෙන් සිදු වන විෂමාචාර ද මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසම විසින් නිරීක්ෂණය කර ඇත. නඩු පැවරීමේදී සහ අභියාචනයේ දී දුප්පත් සහ පීඩිත මිනිසුන්ට පහසුවෙන් ළඟා කරගත නොහැකි, ගුණාත්මක බවින් යුතු නීති ආධාර හිඟකම ඇතුළත්ව අපරාධ යුක්ති පද්ධතියේ ඇති බරපතල ඌනතා විශේෂ කොටගෙන, අන් සියලු ස්ථානවල දී මෙන්ම ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ ද අයථා දඬුවම් පැමිණවීම් සිදුවිය හැක. ඒ නිසාවෙන් අයථා දඬුවම් පැමිණවීම්වලට මුහුණදීමට වඩාත් ඉඩ ඇත්තේ දුප්පතුන් ය.

එමෙන්ම මරණ දඬුවම ලබා දීම මගින් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ හෝ ලෝකයේ වෙනත් කිසිදු රටකින් අපරාධ වළක්වා හෝ අඩු කර ඇති බවට සාක්ෂි නොමැත.

මත්ද්‍රව්‍ය ආශ්‍රිත අපරාධ ඇතුළුව අපරාධ වැළැක්වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් ගන්නා වැඩදායී පියවර වෙත සහයෝගය ලබාදෙමින්ම, මරණ දඬුවමට විරුද්ධ වීමට හැකියාව පවතී. සිවිල් හා දේශපාලන අයිතීන් සහ ආර්ථිකමය, සමාජයීය හා සංස්කෘතික අයිතීන් යන දෙකම සියලුම දෙනා වෙනුවෙන් සහතික කරමින් අපරාධ වැළැක්වීම පිණිස ක්‍රියා කිරීම තීරණාත්මක ය. යම් බන්ධනාගාර රැඳවියන් බන්ධනාගාරගතව සිටියදී මත්ද්‍රව්‍ය ආශ්‍රිත වැරදි සිදුකරන්නේ නම්, බන්ධනාගාර තුළ මත්ද්‍රව්‍යවලට අවසර දෙන බන්ධනාගාර නිලධාරීන් වගකිවයුත්තන් කරමින් බන්ධනාගාර තුළ ආරක්ෂාව තර කළ යුත්තේ නව තාක්ෂණයේ භාවිතය ද එක්කරගනිමිනි.

අන්තර්ජාතික බැඳීම් සහ ප්‍රවණතා

මරණ දඬුවම සඳහා තාවකාලික තහනමක් ඉල්ලා සිටි එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ මහා මණ්ඩල යෝජනාවට එතෙක් මෙතෙක් අනුමැතිය පළ කළ වැඩිම රටවල් ගණන වූ රටවල් 121 අතරට පසුගිය දෙසැම්බර් මාසයේ ශ්‍රී ලංකාවද අයත් විය. මෙහි දී මරණ දඬුවම ඇති නිසා අපරාධ වැළකෙන බවට ඇති අදහස සම්බන්ධයෙන් ඔප්පු කළ හැකි සාක්ෂි නොමැති බව ද, මරණ දඬුවම බලාත්මක කිරීමේදී සිදු විය හැකි මොනයම් හෝ යුක්තිය නිසි ලෙස ඉටු නොවීමේ අත්වැරදීමක් ආපසු හැරවිය නොහැකි හා ප්‍රතිකර්ම නොමැති එකක් ලෙස ද හඳුනා ගන්නා ලදී. මරණ දඬුවම තහනම් කළ රටවල් දිරිමත් කෙරෙන සහ මරණ දඬුවමේ අඛණ්ඩව යෙදීම පිළිබඳව මහත් සැලකිල්ලක් දක්වන ගෝලීය ප්‍රකාශනයකට ද ශ්‍රී ලංකාව එක් විය.

ඉන් මාස 6කට පසුව දැන් ශ්‍රී ලංකාව පෙනී සිටින්නේ මරණ දඬුවම අහෝසි කිරීම වෙත ගමන් කිරීම වෙනුවට පැවති දීර්ඝතම තාවකාලික තහනම ආපසු හරවන අවස්ථාවකට ඉතා ආසන්නයේය. මත්ද්‍රව්‍ය ආශ්‍රිත වැරදි සම්බන්ධයෙන් ලබා දෙන මරණ දඬුවම ජාත්‍යන්තර නීතිය යටතේ අනීතික ඝාතන ඝණයෙහි ලා සැලකේ. එසේම එය ශ්‍රී ලංකාව ද පාර්ශ්වයක් වන සිවිල් හා දේශපාලන අයිතීන් සඳහා වන අන්තර්ජාතික ප්‍රඥප්තියේ 6 වන ව්‍යවස්ථාව මේ හරහා උල්ලංඝණය කරයි.

ඇම්නෙස්ටි ඉන්ටනැෂනල් සංවිධානයට අනුව අධිකරණය බලාත්මක කරන මරණයට පත් කිරීම් සිදු කරන සේම, මරණ දඬුවම නියම කිරීම සිදුකරන රටවල් ගණනෙහි දක්නට ඇත්තේ අඩුවීමකි. එම සංවිධානය පවසන්නේ රටවල් 20 කින් ලබාගත් දත්ත අනුව 2017 වසරේ 993ක්ව පැවති එවන් මරණයට පත්කිරීම්, 2018 වසරේ 690ක් ලෙස වාර්තා වී තිබුනි. එය 2017ට සාපේක්ෂව 31%ක අඩු වීමක් වන අතර, පසුගිය දශකයේ ඇම්නෙස්ටි සංවිධානය වාර්තා කර තිබූ අඩුම අගය ද වේ. ඇම්නෙස්ටි සංවිධානය 2017 වසරේ රටවල් 54කින් ලබාගත් දත්ත අනුව, මරණ දණ්ඩනයට නියම කිරීම් 2591ක් වාර්තා වී තිබූ අතර, එම සංඛ්‍යාවේ අඩුවීමක් පෙන්වමින් 2018 වසරේ අවම වශයෙන් එවන් නියම කිරීම් 2531ක් වාර්තා කර තිබුණි. වසර 2018හි අවසානය වන විට ලොව පුරා මිනිසුන් 19,336ක පිරිසක් මරණ දඬුවමට නියමව ඇති බවට දැනගන්නට ලැබිණ. රටවල් 170කට අධික ගණනක් මරණ දඬුවම අහෝසි කර හෝ නීතියෙන් හෝ භාවිතාවෙන් තාවකාලික තහනම් කිරීම් හඳුන්වාදෙමින් මරණ දඬුවම නැවැත්වීමට හිතකර තත්ත්වයක් ඇති කිරීමට ක්‍රියා කර ඇත. රටවල් 40කට අඩු ගණනක් මරණ දඬුවම ලබාදීමේ භාවිතාව දිගටම පවත්වා ගෙන යාම සිදුකරයි.  එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ සංවිධානයට අනුව 2019 මැයි 23 වන දා වන විට සිවිල් සහ දේශපාලන අයිතීන් පිළිබඳ අන්තර්ජාතික ප්‍රඥප්තියේ, මරණ දඬුවම අහෝසි කිරීම පිණිස වන 2වන වෛකල්පිත ප්‍රොටොකෝලය රටවල් 87ක් විසින් ස්ථිර කර ඇත.   ‍

ඝාතනවලට එරෙහි ආගමික ඉගැන්වීම්

කතෝලිකයෙකු ලෙස මා විශ්වාස කරන මූලික දේශනයක් වන්නේ “ඔබ (කිසිවෙකුත්) නොමැරිය යුතුය” යන්නයි. මරණ දඬුවම යනු ” කවර ආකාරයකින් සිදු කළ ද මානව ගෞරවයට නින්දා කෙරෙන අවමන් සහගත පියවරක්” ලෙසත්, “කිතුනු දහමට පටහැණි” ලෙසත් සහ මනුෂ්‍ය ජීවිතය පූජනීය බවටත්, සෘජු සහ නොවෙනස් ප්‍රතිපත්තිමය ස්ථාවරයක් ෆ්‍රැන්සිස් පාප්තුමා ගනු ලැබ ඇත. කෙසේ වෙතත් පසුගිය වසරේ ජූලි මාසයේ කොළඹ දී සිදු කළ ප්‍රකාශයක අගරදගුරු අතිඋතුම් මැල්කම් රංජිත් හිමිපාණන් කියා සිටියේ ඇතැම් අවස්ථාවල දී මරණ දඬුවම ක්‍රියාවට නැංවීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් තමාගේ සහය හිමිවෙන බවයි. ඔහු ප්‍රකාශ කළේ බිහිසුණු අපරාධ සිදුකරන්නන්ට ඔවුන්ගේ ජීවත් වීමේ අයිතිය අහිමි කළ යුතු බව සහ අධිකරණයෙන් ලබාදෙන ඕනෑම දඬුවමක් බලාත්මක කළ යුතු බව ය. කාදිනල්තුමාගේ ප්‍රකාශයෙන් සති දෙකකටත් අඩු කාලයක දී අගෝස්තු 1 වෙනිදා බිෂොප්වරුන් වෙත ලිපියක් නිකුත් කළ වතිකානුව කියා සිටියේ අහිංසක මිනිසුන්ගේ ජීවිත ආරක්ෂා කිරීමට වුව ද මරණ දඬුවම යොදා ගැනීම අනුමත නොකළ යුතු සහ අනවශ්‍ය දෙයක් ලෙසය. 2018 අගෝස්තු 9 වෙනිදා ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ බිෂොප්වරුන්ගේ සම්මේලනය මේ අනුව යමින් වතිකානුවේ ලිපිය පුළුල් ලෙස උපුටා දක්වමින් සහ ස්වකීය ප්‍රකාශයක්ද නිකුත් කරමින් පහදා සිටියේ ඔවුන් නිසැකවම මරණ දඬුවමට එරෙහි බවය. කාදිනල් රංජිත් හිමිපාණන් ද තම පෙර ස්ථාවරය වෙනස් කරමින් මෙම ප්‍රකාශයට එකඟතාව පළ කර තිබිණි.

එසේම බෞද්ධයින් බහුතරයක් වාසය කරන මේ රටෙහි බුදුදහමේ එන පළමු ශික්ෂාපදය ඝාතනවලින් වැළකී සිටීම යි.(පාණාතිපාතා වේරමණී සික්ඛාපදං සමාදියාමි)

මරණීය දඬුවම – නැතහොත් අධිකරණය විසින් බලාත්මක කරන ඝාතන, ජීවිතයේ පූජනීය බව පවත්වා ගැනෙන ආගමික හා ආධ්‍යාත්මික අගයන්ට ද, ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ අන්තර්ජාතික බැඳියාවන්වලට ද පටහැනි ය. අප එයට විරුද්ධ විය යුතු වන්නේ සිවිල් හා දේශපාලන අයිතීන් පිළිබඳ අන්තර්ජාතික ප්‍රඥප්තියට අනුකූලව  මරණ දඬුවම අහෝසි කිරීම ඉල්ලා සිටින 2 වන වෛකල්පිත ප්‍රොටොකෝලයට එකඟ වෙමින් දීර්ඝකාලීනව බලපැවැත්වෙන පරිදි මරණ දඬුවම අහෝසි කිරීමටත්, කෙටිකාලීනව බලපැවැත්වෙන තාවකාලික තහනම එලෙසින්ම පවත්වාගැනීමටත් අවධාරණයෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටිමිනි.

Death Penalty: License for Judicial Killings

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/06/30/news-features/death-penalty-license-judicial-killings on 30th June 2019

Last year, on October 2, Iran executed a 24-year-old woman, Zeinab Sekaanvand[. Born into a poor and conservative family, she was married at the age of 15 to a man who had turned abusive and violent. She appealed to the authorities and her family to protect her from both her husband and her brother-in-law, whom she claimed had raped her repeatedly, but her pleas went unheard. When she was still a child at 17, her husband was found dead, and she confessed to the crime under police torture. At her trial hearing – when she was finally appointed a lawyer – she retracted her confession, but it was too late: the court sentenced her to death.

Alice Nungu, was a Malawian woman who was sentenced to death after killing her abusive husband while defending herself and her elderly mother from his drunken attack. In 2015, a court heard about the intense abuse that Alice endured before sentencing, and ordered her release. She had languished on death row for over 12 years, fading from HIV, inhumane living conditions, and lack of food. Only weeks after her release, Alice died, with her mother by her side.

Research indicates that women who are sentenced to death are subjected to multiple forms of gender bias. Women who are seen as violating entrenched gender norms are more likely to receive the death penalty and most women are sentenced to death for the crime of murder, often in relation to the killing of family members and in a context of gender-based violence.

This year, in the United States of America (USA), Charles Ray Finch and Clifford Williams Jr., were exonerated 43 years and 42 years after having been sentenced to death[4]. Williams and Finch were the 165th and 166th persons respectively to be exonerated after being given the death penalty in the USA, over a period of 36 years, an average of more than four exonerations per year.

Sri Lanka’s new license for Judicial Killings

Sri Lankan judges have been handing down death sentences, with the number increasing from 96 in 2010 to 217 in 2017. However, the last execution was in 1976 and since then, there has been a moratorium on the use of death penalty.

But on June 26, the International day in support of Victims of Torture, media announced President Sirisena had brought back the death penalty, a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment, breaking the 43 year long moratorium upheld by all Sri Lankan presidents.

The names of the four persons against whom the death warrant has been signed is yet to be announced. As of early this year, 1299 persons were reported to have been on the death row[6]. All those on the death row, and all of their families, must be in agony and trauma, not knowing whether they or their loved ones are amongst the first four to be executed or when their turn might come. Media quoted Prison officials saying most on the death row were stressed, not eating and feeling faintish after the President’s announcement.

Why say NO to the Death Penalty

The death penalty is an irreversible form of punishment which grants no space to consider new evidence that may emerge after a conviction is made, for example through new technology, indicating a wrongful conviction. As has been mentioned above, people wrongly convicted have been released from death row decades after they were put there as new evidence has shown that they were wrongfully convicted.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has noted allegations of prosecutorial misconduct leading to conviction of innocents in Sri Lanka. Like everywhere else, wrongful convictions are possible in Sri Lanka, especially given the serious deficiencies in the criminal justice system, including a lack of easily accessible, quality, legal aid for the poor and vulnerable – during trial and appeal. Thus, it is the poor who are more likely to face wrongful convictions.

There is no evidence in Sri Lanka or in any part of the world that the death penalty has prevented or reduced crimes.

It is possible and necessary to oppose the death penalty and support strong measures to address crime, including drug related crimes. It is crucial to work towards prevention of crime, by guaranteeing all human rights for all – both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights.

If some detainees are engaged in drug-related offences from within prison grounds, security in prisons must be strengthened, including through the use of new technology and holding prison officials accountable for allowing drugs inside prisons.

International commitments and trends

In December last year, Sri Lanka was amongst the 121 countries that endorsed a United Nations General Assembly Resolution noting that any miscarriage of justice in the implementation of the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable and that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty. Sri Lanka also joined the collective global expression of deep concern about the continuing application of the death penalty and encouraged states which had moratoriums to maintain it. Six months later, Sri Lanka has abandoned its own moratorium, instead of progressing to abolish the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government is reported to have announced that it is in the process of abolishing the death penalty or scrapping the mandatory death penalty. Nepal’s 2015 constitution has prohibited any law to be made that prescribes the death penalty. Over 170 countries have either abolished the death penalty or taken a position in favour of ending executions by introducing moratorium sin law or practice. As of May 23 2019, 87 countries had ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights calling for the abolishing of the death penalty.The number of countries implementing judicial executions as well as passing death sentences is on the decline. According to Amnesty International, there have been at least 690 executions in 2018, down by 31 percent from 2017 (at least 993 executions). Death sentences passed in 2018 has also declined to 2,531 in 2018 from the 2,591 reported in 2017. At least 19,336 people were known to be under the sentence of death globally at the end of 2018.

Religious teachings against killings

As a Catholic, a fundamental precept I believe in is “Thou Shall not Kill”. Pope Francis has said that the death penalty is “an inhuman measure that humiliates human dignity, in whatever form it is carried out” and that it is “contrary to the Gospel.” The Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka have unequivocally opposed the death penalty through its statement dated August 9 2018. The first precept of Buddhism is to abstain from killings (Pānātipātā veramanī sikkhāpadan samādiyāmi).

The Death Penalty – or Judicial Killings – is against Sri Lanka’s international obligations and religious and spiritual values, which uphold the sacredness of life. We must oppose the death penalty in any form – in the short term to maintain the moratorium, and in the long term to abolish the death penalty for all crimes and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which calls for the abolition of the death penalty.

Death Penalty: License for Judicial Killings

First published at https://groundviews.org/2019/06/28/death-penalty-license-for-judicial-killings/ on 28th June 2019

Last year, on October 2, Iran executed a 24-year-old woman, Zeinab Sekaanvand, who was a child at the time of her alleged offense. Under international law, she should have been excluded from the death penalty. She was also, like many child brides, a survivor of gender-based violence. Born into a poor and conservative family, she was married at the age of 15 to a man who had turned abusive and violent. She appealed to the authorities and her family to protect her from both her husband and her brother-in-law, whom she claimed had raped her repeatedly, but her pleas went unheard. When she was 17, her husband was found dead, and she confessed to the crime under police torture. At her trial hearing – when she was finally appointed a lawyer – she retracted her confession, but it was too late: the court sentenced her to death.

Alice Nungu, was a Malawian woman who was sentenced to death after killing her abusive husband while defending herself and her elderly mother from his drunken attack. In 2015, a court finally heard about the years of intense abuse that Alice endured before sentencing, and ordered her immediate release. She had languished on death row for over 12 years, fading from HIV, inhumane living conditions, and lack of food. Only weeks after her release, Alice died, with her mother by her side.

Though there are women in the death row in Sri Lanka, not much information is available about gender dimensions of those facing the death penalty. But international research indicates that women who are sentenced to death are subjected to multiple forms of gender bias. That women who are seen as violating entrenched gender norms are more likely to receive the death penalty and that most women are sentenced to death for the crime of murder, often in relation to the killing of family members and in a context of gender-based violence. In Jordan, for example, of 16 women on death row, all but one was convicted of killing a close family member who traditionally wields authority, creating the potential for abuse: a husband, a father, or a mother-in-law.

Two weeks ago, on June 14, in the United States of America (USA), Charles Ray Finch was exonerated of all charges, 43 years after he had been sent to the death row. Earlier this year, also in the USA, Clifford Williams Jr., was exonerated 42 years after having been sentenced to death. Since 1973, exonerations had taken more than 30 years each for ten persons. All of them have been black. Williams and Finch were the 165th and 166th persons respectively to be exonerated after being given the death penalty in the USA, over a period of 36 years, an average of more than 4 exonerations per year. The 166th came just before the 1500th execution on June 20, 2019.

Sri Lanka’s new license for Judicial Killings

Sri Lanka last’s execution was in 1976 and since then, there has been moratorium on the use of death penalty. Although death sentence remained in our laws and courts regularly imposed the death penalty, successive Presidents didn’t sign the death warrant.

But on June 26, the International day in support of Victims of Torture, media announced President Sirisena had brought back the death penalty, a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment, breaking the 43 year long moratorium upheld by all Sri Lankan presidents. Sri Lanka, a country notorious for extra-judicial executions for last several decades, is on the verge of becoming notorious now for judicial executions.

The names of the four persons against whom the death warrant has been signed is yet to be announced. As of early this year, 1299 persons were reported to have been on the death row. All those on the death row, and all of their families, must be in agony and trauma, not knowing whether they or their loved ones are amongst the first four to be executed or when their turn might come. Media quoted Prison officials saying most on the death row were stressed, not eating and feeling faint.

Why say NO to the Death Penalty

The death penalty is an irreversible form of punishment which grants no space to consider new evidence that may emerge after a conviction is made, for example through new technology, indicating a wrongful conviction. As has been mentioned above, people wrongly convicted have been released from death row decades after they were put there as new evidence has shown they were wrongfully convicted. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has pointed out that persons wrongly convicted had been later released from the death row or prison from countries such as USA, Canada and the United Kingdom. The Commission has pointed out a case in the USA, where a convicted man was released after 23 years in prison for several crimes, and the lead investigator and the judge later had claimed his conviction was a miscarriage of justice.

The Commission has also noted alleged prosecutorial misconduct leading to conviction of innocents in Sri Lanka. Like everywhere else, wrongful convictions are possible in Sri Lanka, especially given serious deficiencies in the criminal justice system, including a lack of easily accessible, quality, legal aid for the poor and vulnerable – during trial and appeal. Thus, it is the poor that are more likely to face wrongful convictions.

There is no evidence in Sri Lanka or any part of the world that the death penalty has prevented or reduced crimes.

It is possible and necessary to oppose the death penalty and support constructive measures to address crime, including drug related crimes. It is crucial to work towards prevention of crime, by guaranteeing all human rights for all – both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. If some detainees are engaged in drug-related offenses from within prison grounds, security in prisons must be strengthened, including through the use of new technology and holding prison officials accountable for allowing drugs inside prison.

International commitments and trends

Last year December, Sri Lanka was amongst the 121 countries, the largest number ever, that endorsed a United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for a moratorium on the Death Penalty. Sri Lanka joined 120 other countries in noting that that any miscarriage of justice in the implementation of death penalty is irreversible and irreparable and that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty. Sri Lanka also joined the collective global expression of deep concern about the continuing application of death penalty and encouraged states which had moratoriums to maintain it. Six months later, Sri Lanka now appears to be on the verge of reversing the longest moratorium, instead of progressing to abolish death penalty. Death penalty for drug related offenses also violates article 6 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party to and is considered to be unlawful killings under international law.

According to Amnesty International, the number of countries implementing judicial executions as well as passing death sentences is on the decline. Amnesty says there have been at least 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018, down by 31% from 2017 (at least 993 executions), representing the lowest number of executions that Amnesty International has recorded in the past decade. Amnesty had recorded at least 2,531 death sentences in 54 countries in 2018, a decrease from the total of 2,591 reported in 2017. At least 19,336 people were known to be under sentence of death globally at the end of 2018. Over 170 countries have either abolished the death penalty or taken a position in favour of ending executions by introducing moratorium in law or practice. Fewer than 40 countries continue to uphold the practice. According to the UN, as of 23rd May 2019, 87 countries had ratified 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights calling for the abolishing of the death penalty.

Religious teachings against killings

As a Catholic, a fundamental precept I believe in is “Though Shall not Kill”. Pope Francis has been forthright and taken a consistently principled position that human life is sacred and the death penalty is “an inhuman measure that humiliates human dignity, in whatever form it is carried out” and that it is “contrary to the Gospel.” However, last year, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, in a statement issued in July, said that he supports the implementation of the death penalty in certain cases. He said perpetrators of gruesome crimes could be considered as having forfeited their own right to life, and whatever punishment was given by courts should be implemented. Less than two weeks after Cardinal Ranjith’s statement, the Vatican issued a letter to bishops on August 1 categorically stating that the death penalty is inadmissible and unnecessary even when used to protect the life of innocent people. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka followed this up with a statement of their own on August 9, 2018 that quoted extensively from the Vatican’s letter and made it clear that they unequivocally oppose the death penalty. Cardinal Ranjith had reversed his earlier position and signed up to this statement.

The first precept of Buddhism in this Buddhist majority country is to abstain from killings (Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi).

The Death Penalty – or Judicial Killings – is against Sri Lanka’s international obligations and religious and spiritual values, which uphold sacredness of life. We must oppose it, demanding in the short term to maintain the moratorium, and in the long term to abolish the death penalty from domestic laws and ratify the 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that calls for the abolition of the death penalty.

Read “The Solution to Drug Trafficking in Sri Lanka“. Also read more content around the death penalty here

Sri Lanka’s Stalled Reforms

First published at https://intpolicydigest.org/2018/09/12/sri-lanka-s-stalled-reforms/ on 12th September 2018

Ruki Fernando is a human rights activist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This interview has been edited lightly.

Three years on, what’s your broad take on the coalition government’s performance? Where does the reform agenda currently stand?

Some reforms have happened since 2015 to varying degrees, but many of the promised reforms have come to a standstill and seem unlikely to happen by next year.

The release of some lands occupied by the military after months of protests, the release and indictments of some political prisoners, more space for free expression and assembly compared to years under the previous regime, arrests of some Navy and Army personnel in relation to a couple of disappearance cases, convictions of Police and Army personnel (for torture, killing of civilians and rape), are also some positive things seen since 2015. The passing of the 19th amendment to the constitution reducing the powers of the executive president and strengthening independent institutions and checks and balances, the ratification of the International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances and making this a crime in Sri Lanka, the passing of the Right to Information Act were some progressive legislative changes – while the proactiveness and independence displayed by the leadership of the Human Rights Commission and the Right to Information Commission were also positive features.

But the reluctance of the government and lack of leadership by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to carry forward the reform agenda overshadows these gains. Much of the land occupied by the military during and after the war still remains in their hands. Releases were often due to long drawn out overnight protests and direct action by affected communities. The possibilities of reconciliation through land releases was negatively affected by the arrogance and viciousness of the military – who after benefitting from decades of occupation, called the return of lands “gifts,” organized ceremonies for themselves where military leaders were glorified and had destroyed and damaged some properties just before handing them over.

Political prisoners acquitted by courts after up to 15 years in detention have received no apology or reparations and many still languish in prison, including based on confessions made during detention, which are likely to have been under duress. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has not been withdrawn despite the commitment to do so three years ago. Alternatives to the PTA were drafted in utmost secrecy from the citizenry and leaked versions contained draconian provisions. Abduction, assaults, death threats, intimidation, discrediting and surveillance of activists continues. An attempt to bring in a draconian amendment to the Voluntary Social Services Organizations Act was only withdrawn in the face of stiff opposition from civil activists and organizations. Violence against Muslims and Christians continued, including on a mass scale, such as in March this year around Kandy. Debt has reached life-threatening proportions.

Three years after ambitious promises to set up institutions to deal with wartime abuses, only one, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) has been set up, and that too is limping forward. A draft bill was rushed through the cabinet to establish an Office for Reparations. There is not even draft legislation for the two other institutions promised – a truth commission and judicial mechanism with a special counsel. The president, prime minister and other politicians have backtracked on the promise to include foreign judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and investigators in the judicial mechanism. 

More specifically, what do you expect to happen in terms of constitution-building?

There has been some progress, with some public consultations, six subcommittee reports and a steering committee report from the Constitutional Assembly, consisting of all the parliamentarians. However, there is a lot of uncertainty about whether a new constitution will see the light of day. Even if it does, there are serious concerns about whether it will bring substantial changes – such as the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights as justiciable rights, doing away with ancient laws that facilitate the applicability of discriminatory laws against women and children, providing the foremost place to the majority religion and a lesser place to other religions, abolition of the executive presidency and power-sharing arrangements, which is also crucial for resolving the ethnic conflict that led to war.

How effective will the Office on Missing Persons be?

The OMP has been functioning for just over six months, but it’s too early to tell how effective it will be. OMP members tried make up for a lack of consultations before it was set up, by having a series of consultations about how it should function. It has stronger enabling legislation than previous Commissions of Inquiry and the chairperson and members have shown sensitivities in acknowledging the frustration, disappointment and anger of many families of the disappeared and missing who have approached multiple commissions, police, courts, et cetera and not received the answers they are seeking. But other than passionate appeals to give the OMP a chance and stating that they will try to do better than previous government initiatives, and publishing an interim report, I have seen nothing to indicate the OMP will be more effective than the large number of previous Commissions of Inquiry. The inclusion of a senior retired Army officer as a member of the OMP, in a context where many families believe their relatives were taken away by the Army (and where Army personnel have been convicted by courts and both Army and Navy personnel have been arrested on suspicion in relation to disappearances), has also contributed to making many families of the disappeared lose confidence in the OMP and be skeptical. It is this anger, suspicion and frustration that have led to protests against the OMP by some families of disappeared, leading to even the unacceptable situation of them blocking other families of the disappeared from engaging with the OMP. 

The first major specific public promise made by the OMP was to release an interim report on the 30th of August – the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. But instead of fulfilling this promise, the OMP postponed the release of the report – in order to hand over the report first to the president, though they have no legal obligation to do so. Though this may be a strategic decision by the OMP, it has led to concerns that the OMP is prioritizing presidential appeasement and not giving primacy to the families of the disappeared and missing. The report dated the 30th of August was presented to the president on the 5th of September and released to the public on the 6th.

Despite the history of reports and recommendations by previous Commissions of Inquiry, much of which have been ignored by successive governments, the OMP too has opted to prioritize another report with observations and recommendations. This is despite the OMP being legally empowered to provide welfare services, trace the disappeared and inform the families.

The recommendations in the report include amendments to existing laws to strengthen the legal framework in criminalizing and prosecuting enforced disappearances, that state officials including members of the armed forces and police who are named as suspects or accused in relation to abductions and enforced disappearances should be suspended and not transferred, promoted or offered any other office, publishing a list of detention centers and detainees, designating a national day for the disappeared, preserving sites of mass graves as memorial spaces and restoring a monument for Sinhalese youth that disappeared in late 1980s that was destroyed by the previous government.

Disappointingly, the OMP has not called on the government to release a list of those who surrendered to the Army at the end of the war, many of whom disappeared afterwards. The release of this list has been a central demand made to the president and also to the OMP by Tamil families who have been at continuous roadside protests for more than 550 days. The OMP has also opted to call for reform of some provisions of the draconian PTA instead of total repeal, without questioning the need for counterterrorism legislation, which has a history of abuse in Sri Lanka and across the world. 

The report also has some constructive and practical recommendations on “interim relief,” including a monthly cash payment and other facilities related to debt relief, housing, education, employment and livelihood development.

Observations and recommendations in the interim report are significant and important, but unlikely to impress families of the disappeared. What would have made a difference is if the OMP had done in the first six months or will do in the next few months what many families of disappeared have asked them to do and that they have a legal mandate to do: Establish the fate and whereabouts of a few of the disappeared and inform their families. Or at least start providing information relating to the status of investigations, on individual cases, to respective families. The interim report says the OMP started to carry out inquiries with relevant authorities on specific cases. However, even statistical and general information about progress made is not mentioned in the report.

Would you talk about some of the criticisms surrounding the creation of the Office for Reparations?

As is the usual custom of this government, the draft bill had been drafted in secret, without adequate consultations before it was approved by the cabinet. On the draft bill, there are concerns about unnecessary powers being granted to the cabinet and parliament, making the awarding of reparations a long drawn, politicized process and the office not being an independent one with decision-making powers.

What about President Sirisena’s plan to reinstate the death penalty?

This was a shock, as for more than 40 years, through civil war and insurrections, Sri Lanka was one of 29 countries that had maintained a moratorium on the death penalty. Another 106 countries had abolished it fully by 2017, and only 23 countries were known to have carried out executions in 2017. There is no evidence in Sri Lanka, or in other countries, that the death penalty has reduced crime by having a deterrent effect. In Sri Lanka, there are serious deficiencies in the criminal justice system, including a lack of easily accessible, quality legal aid. 

The death penalty is an irreversible form of punishment which grants no space to consider new evidence that may emerge after a conviction is made, for example through new technology, indicating a wrongful conviction. It has been pointed out that in countries such as America, Canada and the United Kingdom, people wrongly convicted have been released from death row decades after they were put there as new evidence has shown they were wrongfully imprisoned.

If some detainees are engaged in drug-related offences from within prison grounds, cited as a reason to reintroduce the death penalty, security in prisons must be strengthened, including by using new technology, without infringing on the rights of detainees. Prison officials responsible for such crimes from within prisons must be held accountable.

What Sri Lanka must do is ratify the 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that calls for the abolition of the death penalty and abolish the death penalty from our books, as about 85 countries had done by the end of 2017.

How concerned are you about reports of abduction and torture since Sirisena became president?

Abductions have continued since President Sirisena took office – in the war-affected North, and even in Colombo in 2017, such as the abduction of the trade union leader and attempted abduction of a student activist. However, many abducted appear to have been released, though I’m also aware of those who have disappeared under this government and not been found.

Attacks, threats, intimidation and surveillance of families of the disappeared campaigning for truth and justice have also continued under President Sirisena. Their supporters, including activists and journalists have also been attacked, threatened, obstructed and interrogated. Several such incidents were reported in July this year; I had mentioned two in an article I wrote last month.

The continuation of torture too has been a major concern under the Sirisena presidency.

Will provincial council elections be held this year?

There is no certainty when provincial elections will be held.

What’s your assessment of a possible Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidential campaign? Who do you see as viable candidates for the presidency?

Rajapaksa political forces have always been strong, even in 2015, and appear to be gaining ground in the face of failures by the present coalition government. Despite much hype beforehand, the “Jana Balaya” (People’s Power) rally in Colombo on the 5th didn’t indicate mass public support for Rajapaksa-led political forces and there didn’t even appear to be a clear and strong political message from the rally. Though Gotabaya was seen participating in the rally, he didn’t play a leading role and there is also uncertainty about whether he will be a presidential candidate for the Joint Opposition, representing Rajapaksa political forces. There is also no clear indication whether Sirisena – Wickremesinghe and their allies will contest together or separately, and if together, who might be a “common candidate.” But the rather unexpected emergence of Sirisena as a successful presidential candidate, with a broad alliance of political and civil forces’ support, makes me wonder whether there could be another person who could gain widespread support, across political and civil forces – but I only hope it would be one that will not let us down like Sirisena has done.

Sri Lankan Catholics need to follow pope’s call on death penalty

First published at https://www.ucanews.com/news/sri-lankan-catholics-need-to-follow-popes-call-on-death-penalty/83072on 17th August 2018

Pope Francis has taken a consistently principled position that human life is sacred

I was among the Sri Lankans who were shocked to see media reports in July indicating that President Maithripala Sirisena and his cabinet have given the green light to execute drug offenders on death row.

For more than 40 years, through civil wars and insurrections, Sri Lanka was one of 29 countries that had maintained a moratorium on the death penalty. Another 106 countries had abolished it fully by 2017, a year when 23 countries were known to have carried out executions.

If some detainees are engaged in drug-related offences from within prison grounds, cited as a reason to rein in the death penalty, security in prisons must be strengthened. This includes using new technology and holding prison officials accountable.

There is no evidence in Sri Lanka, or in other countries, that the death penalty has reduced crime by having a deterrent effect.

In Sri Lanka, there are serious deficiencies in the criminal justice system, including a lack of easily accessible, quality, legal aid.

The death penalty is an irreversible form of punishment which grants no space to consider new evidence that may emerge after a conviction is made, for example through new technology, indicating a wrongful conviction.

It has been pointed out that in countries such as America, Canada and the UK, people wrongly convicted have been released from death row decades after they were put there as new evidence has shown they were wrongfully imprisoned.

Meanwhile, the Colombo-based European Ambassadors have written to the Sri Lankan president stressing their unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances and all cases.

A European Union (EU) diplomat was also quoted as telling the media “if Sri Lanka resumes capital punishment, Colombo will immediately lose its GSP-Plus status.”

Pope Francis has been forthright and taken a consistently principled position that human life is sacred and the death penalty is “an inhuman measure that humiliates human dignity, in whatever form it is carried out.”

He further described it as being “contrary to the Gospel.”

However, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, clarified in statement issued around July 20 that he supports the president’s move to implement the death penalty in certain cases. He said perpetrators of gruesome crimes could be considered as having forfeited their own right to life, and whatever punishment was given by courts should be implemented.

The president has called to lift the 42-year moratorium on the death penalty for some death row convicts.Less than two weeks after Cardinal Ranjith’s statement, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a letter to bishops on Aug. 1 announcing that a revision of Church teachings had been approved by Pope Francis. The revision stated categorically that the death penalty is inadmissible and unnecessary even when used to protect the life of innocent people.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka followed this up with a statement of their own on Aug. 9 that quoted extensively from the CDF’s letter and made it clear in no uncertain terms that they unequivocally oppose the death penalty.

Now is the time for Sri Lankan Catholics, including the Catholic Bishops Conference, the Conference of (Catholic) Major Religious Superiors, and lay groups to follow the pope’s call for churches to work toward the total abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances.

Together, we must call on the country to ratify the 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that calls for the abolition of the death penalty. Some 85 countries had ratified it by the end of 2017.

Ruki Fernando is a Sri Lankan human rights activist who was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He is still under investigation. He is also a member of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors and an adviser to the INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre.