Sri Lanka –Human Rights Council – Death Penalty – March 2017

The Advocates for Human Rights, in collaboration with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, submitted a joint stakeholder report on the death penalty in Sri Lanka for the Human Rights Council’s 28th Session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review. The report discusses the background of death penalty practice in Sri Lanka and suggests recommendations for fostering the formal abolition of capital punishment in the country.

Sri Lanka is considered to have a de facto moratorium on imposition of capital punishment, with its last execution in 1976. Yet Sri Lanka’s courts continue to impose death sentences, leaving the final decision to commute those sentences to the discretion of the President of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Penal Code does not limit the death penalty to the most serious crimes as required under international human rights standards. Under the Penal Code the death penalty remains a potential punishment for the following offences: waging war against the state, including attempts and abetting such actions; mutiny of an officer in the military; knowingly giving false evidence in court that may result in conviction of an innocent person; murder; and abetting a suicide. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, any offence punishable by death shall be tried by the High Court of Sri Lanka. The Court then forwards to the President of Sri Lanka the trial evidence and a report containing the judge’s opinion whether a death sentence should be imposed. The President may commute the death sentence or approve it and appoint a date, time, and place for the execution to occur.

Sri Lanka’s courts continue to recommend death sentences. For example, in 2016, a former Sri Lankan politician and four others were sentenced to death for killing a former presidential advisor and three others. Six police officers accused of murdering a Sri Lankan youth in 2014 shared the same fate. In 2017, a special committee established in 2013 to review the Penal Code with a view to abolishing the death penalty recommended that the President commute the death sentences of sixty prisoners, and the President followed that recommendation on the occasion of the 69th Independence Day of Sri Lanka. In 2014, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka published a Review on the death penalty. The Review recommended abolishing capital punishment, ratifying the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and converting death sentences into life imprisonment.

Commending Sri Lanka and its President for the de facto moratorium on the death penalty and recent mass commutations of death sentences, the joint stakeholders suggest the following recommendations for the Sri Lankan Government:

  • Impose a formal moratorium on the death penalty, effective immediately going forward, with a view toward complete abolition of the death penalty.
  • Abolish the death penalty and replace it with a sentence that is fair, proportionate, and respects international human rights standards.
  • Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR with a view toward abolishing the death penalty.
  • Undertake a public education campaign about human rights, as well as about alternatives to the death penalty, in an effort to reduce public support for the death penalty.
  • Amend the Penal Code to eliminate the death penalty as a possible punishment for any crime that does not result in death and in which the defendant did not intend to kill.
  • Ensure timely implementation of the HRCSL’s Recommendation to Abolish the Death Penalty in Sri Lanka.
  • Facilitate the work of the death penalty committee chaired by former Justice Edirisooriva to ensure that it issues and publicizes concrete findings and recommendations.