Lawyers group throws down the gauntlet

The Lawyers for Democracy (LfD) organisation announced that they would if necessary challenge President Maithripala Sirisena’s proposed lifting of the moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty imposed on repeatedly offending death row drug convicts before the Superior Courts at the correct juncture.  

Convener of the LfD, G.S. Lakshan J.S. Dias, speaking to Ceylon Today said that as a citizens’ initiative, a fundamental rights petition could be filed in the Supreme Court on the basis of the right to equality and equal protection of the law, and non-discrimination, while a writ of certiorari could be filed in the Court of Appeal seeking that the order for the implementation of the death penalty in this regard be quashed and that a proper procedure that does not discriminate be followed.

 He added that international law would be used in their efforts towards non-implementation.

The LfD in a press release issued in this regard recently expressed grave concern regarding the arbitrary and ill adviced move and plan to execute certain death row prisoners, stating that the death penalty is irrational and regressive, that lifting the moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty would do great damage to the country’s regional leadership on human rights, its compliance with international legal obligations and commitment to uphold international human rights law, and its reputation.

Sri Lanka has consistently voted in favour of the moratorium while acting on a whim, Executive President Sirisena proposes to unilaterally break from such, thereby discrediting the work of the foreign service.   

They also noted that imposing and executing the death penalty offers no guarantee of effectively tackling drug related crimes, citing the lack of empirical evidence concerning whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent.  

As a solution, the LfD proposed introspection of the criminal justice system which they deemed was at present ‘beholden to power, mired in bureaucracy and lopsided in its ability to dispense justice to the poor’. 

Therefore, ‘it is critical that reforms’ which have ‘long-term solutions’ in mind ‘be prioritised’ and are considered ‘the need of the hour’ while the ‘strict enforcement of the law, rehabilitation and the dismantling of the systems that enable drug smuggling will address the root causes of why drug use and its trade is so rampant’. 

The LfD in conclusion urged the President ‘not to give into the temptation of implementing populist moves that in reality, achieve nothing’ and to therefore ‘reconsider his decision on the implementation’.

“We have given an assurance to the United Nations and the European Union that we won’t implement this. If the death penalty is re-implemented, it would be the beginning of so many miscarriages of justice. 

It may lead to a stage, where drug dealers as is the case in the Philippines from whom we as a country are no different as far as the situation regarding enforced disappearances is concerned, are killed on sight on the roads sans a judicial process. There must be order. It must be proper. 

Convicts on death row cannot be handpicked. What if women’s groups start demanding that the death penalty be implemented against rapists? What if there is a female President? Are we going to do so?,” Dias noted.

By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody

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