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Aye for extra judicial killings; Nay to death penalty

15 October 2015 07:38 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Why opposition to the death penalty is hypocrisy

Opposition to the implementation of capital punishment by many politicians is nothing but the best manifestation of hypocrisy.  That could be corroborated by their behaviour during politically turbulent times in the country. During every regime after 1970, leaders of many political parties-ruling or Opposition- have resorted to extra-judicial methods, while the country maintained a moratorium on capital punishment.

During the first insurrection of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1971, it was reported that as many as twenty thousand youths were killed at the hands of the armed forces and many of them died on what was then called “tyre pyres” that were introduced in the country for the first time. That was the first time people had seen human bodies floating in rivers.

These bodies on tyre pyres and in rivers were not of those killed in fighting or crossfire between the armed forces and insurgents, rather they had been murdered after being captured. 

Never a member of any of the then ruling parties- the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) had regretted those killings, which were not only unlawful but also committed as a method of capital punishment for the victims’ alleged involvement in insurgency or sometimes for the mere moral support for it.

President J.R. Jayewardene attempted to crush the rebellions both by the JVP and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during his tenure and set December 31, 1979 as a deadline for the then Security Forces Commander, Jaffna T.I. Weeratunga to eliminate the Tamil rebels, especially the LTTE in the North. The army commander failed to meet the deadline but the people of Jaffna saw many human bodies floating in the Jaffna lagoon.

However, Jayewardene’s successor Ranasinghe Premadasa decimated the southern rebels with an iron fist. The phenomenon of mass graves was first introduced during this period in the North as well as the South. 

Stories about the mass grave in Sooriyakanda and massacres of hundreds of people in places such as Kokkattichcholai in the east were reported. 

The number of extra judicial killings in the south by the armed forces and the vigilante groups - PRRA and Green Tigers-was placed at more than 60.000 by the “alternative newspapers” and the then human rights activists such as Mahinda Rajapaksa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, despite the southern rebellion being still called ‘JVP bheeshanaya.’

There is no doubt that all these murders were a method of capital punishment carried out for expressing views or acting against the incumbent government, while a relatively small number of death sentences delivered by courts were under a moratorium, falsely signifying the sympathy and respect of the leaders of the government for human lives.

Security forces recaptured the Jaffna Peninsula and a part of the Vanni from the clutches of the LTTE during the Operations Riviresa and Sathjaya in 1995/1996 and it was alleged that more than 600 people had disappeared during these operations apart from those killed in action.  

The allegations of extra judicial killings and disappearances during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure finally landed the country in a UNHRC mess.

On the other hand the JVP and the LTTE too resorted to this kind of capital punishments during their rebellions. Thus almost everybody in the country except for a few have at some point justified or defended, if not committed, these unlawful killings for the simple reason that those killed were their political opponents.
Same situation could be seen internationally as well. Why shouldn’t the killing of Osama Bin Laden fall into the category of extra judicial killing, when he had been killed, while he was unarmed? 

Murdering Palestinians in hundreds just for opposing Israeli atrocities and launching indiscriminate drone attacks on the Afghan soil signify the same.

It goes without saying that the death sentence has never and nowhere totally deterred serious crimes such as rape and murder. Nor have the other punishments totally eliminated other crimes. 

Many factors including education, culture, poverty and effectiveness of law enforcement mechanism contribute to the deterrence or proliferation of crimes. The effectiveness of capital punishment in elimination of crimes is hence not justifiable. 

Therefore the suitability of it is also a matter that could be eternally argued.

The danger in carrying out the death sentence, even in the event of its acceptability being established, is the possibility of wrong persons being sent to the gallows. The free Wikipedia has several pages that have catalogued a large number of such miscarriages of justice around the world in which some unfortunate men had been exonerated decades after they were executed or incarcerated. 

Judges and prosecutors could later regret, but could not give the victims their life or youth incarcerated with them. Nor can they mete out justice to the original rape or murder victims of these cases.

In a country where the reputation of the Police and the Judiciary is at a low ebb, the danger of miscarriage of justice is very high. The Police, Judiciary and the education sectors have been the most corrupt institutions in Sri Lanka according to the annual corruption index compiled by the Transparency International (TI) for the past several years. The situation becomes worse when lethargy accompanies the corrupt practices.

The Police were accused of both corruption and lethargy in the recent rape and murder case of Vithya, the Punkuduthivu girl. 

Actions taken by the Police with regard to the rape and murder of Seya Sadewmi of Kotadeniyawa have turned into a laughing stock. 

Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, was arrested in connection with an incident that took place in 1999. He was at large for the past 16 years. A regime change was necessitated to arrest the suspects of the murder of Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham and the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda. Even Prince Charles had to intervene to arrest suspects of the Khurram Sheikh murder case.

However, the discourse on the capital punishment was not free this time since it has reemerged at a time when the country is attempting to project a new image in respect of human rights to the international community. 

Hence, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe had to give an assurance to the world that Sri Lanka would not implement the death sentence, when Parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra brought an adjournment motion in Parliament days ago. 
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  • Robert Saturday, 17 October 2015 04:06 PM

    This is very preciise and succinct summary what i saw before migrating to UK.People are accepting killings and moving on as they never happened. This creates a future acceptance such behaviour that one can do it if he or she can escape from punishment. It is almost becoming a culture of the country.


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