Last week’s Cabinet decision to implement the death penalty for drug offenders in death row, lacks clarity. Newspaper reports do not make it clear whether the decision applies only to those who have been convicted of drug related offences, but continue to mastermind drug operations in the country from within the Prisons or, whether it [...]


Govt. action against drugs and crime should not violate human rights norms


Last week’s Cabinet decision to implement the death penalty for drug offenders in death row, lacks clarity. Newspaper reports do not make it clear whether the decision applies only to those who have been convicted of drug related offences, but continue to mastermind drug operations in the country from within the Prisons or, whether it applies to all those on whom the death penalty has been imposed for drug related offences, even if they are not involved in such operations.

Whichever maybe the case, several questions arise which make implementing such a decision problematic. If all those on whom the death sentence has been imposed are to have their sentences implemented, then it is a selective implementation without a rational basis, which leaves out those in death row for non drug related offences. If it is only in respect of those who have masterminded drug operations in the country, while being on death row, even that would be a selective implementation, because those left out too, have been imposed the sentence for a drug related offence, after a court trial.

If the death penalty is being implemented against those in death row, because they masterminded drug operations, they are being punished for a crime different to the one for which the death penalty was first imposed. And, additionally, they are being punished for the new crime, without a trial held for the new offence.

It is not as if drug related crimes will immediately come down, once such a decision is implemented. The Government’s decision seems to be ill considered and a knee-jerk reaction to the whole issue of crime control, with particular emphasis on the scourge of drugs. When the President presented this proposal to Cabinet, despite unexpressed reservations by some Ministers, they seem to have been stampeded into action by the perception that, there is a rapidly increasing crime wave in the country, although this is not borne out by the statistics available to the Government.

Deputy Minister Ajith Perera, in a statement published in yesterday’s Daily Mirror, has furnished figures that show, in fact, the number of murders in 2017 less than that in 2016, and the same is true in the case of thefts. The figures for 2018 so far do not show any appreciable difference, when compared with the previous years. Besides, the rate of solving murders by the Police too, have been very high during these 3 years.

However, the Government cannot rest on its laurels, claiming there is no increase in crime. Every possible step should be taken to reduce the crime rate to the lowest possible level.

According to a report in yesterday’s Daily Mirror, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had lauded Sri Lanka’s plan to replicate the success of the Philippine’s war on drugs. President Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque is reported to have said, “Of course, we are happy that other countries have taken note of our war on drugs and look upon us as best practice on dealing with illegal drugs. So we appreciate that, but, as of now, we still have no death penalty.”

He has gone on to state, “Well. I think, we have not reached the point where we will hang them. We are still on the level of really using our Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the National Bureau of Investigation and our political will against drug pushers.”

While Sri Lanka can learn from the methods used by the Philippines, to combat the phenomenon of narcotics, it has to proceed with caution when doing so, and avoid the extra legal methods that the Philippines’ authorities have been accused of adopting.

What has contributed to this perception of an increase in the crime rate has been the media spotlight on crime, as well as the nature of the crimes committed. Bank robberies and targetted killings of individuals in cases of organized crime, are often repeated on electronic media news broadcasts/telecasts for several successive days.

Every time a news item related to the investigation process, such as an arrest or a report filed in court, is telecast, it is accompanied by a recast of the robbery, shooting incident or the funeral procession with pictures of wailing relatives. This imprints in the mind of the viewer an impression created unconsciously, that we are living in the midst of a crime wave. Clearly, there is a need for the media to rethink their policy of publicity to crime and confining themselves to incidents that are newsworthy and only to the extent necessary for the public to be kept informed.

This would be a worthwhile exercise of the media’s social responsibility.

The Government should adopt a more holistic approach towards combating crime and the spread of drugs. In the case of organised crime, the most dangerous feature is the access to guns to shoot people. The Police must conduct operations where guns must be taken away from individuals who possess them, and all avenues to acquire such guns unlawfully, must be blocked. This is not difficult for the Police to do, if done in a planned and systematic manner.

It is not only the availability of guns that is an issue, but their use with a great deal of precision. Such precision can only be achieved if the users of such guns have considerable shooting practice, which cannot be done silently and in hiding. Thus Police vigilance can nip this in the bud.

It is also necessary to enact Laws to enhance punishment for those in unlawful possession of arms.

With regard to the drug menace, it is important that all potential entry points for drugs are secured. The Ports, Airports and the coasts have to be very strictly monitored to ensure that narcotics are not brought in. A careful study has to be undertaken to ensure that leaks in the security system, as well as corruption, are not facilitating the entry of these dangerous drugs into the country.

The issue of drugs is not only related to crime, but has a social dimension. Hundreds of youth and others are being lured into the consumption of drugs, which is spreading like a cancer in the country. The poorer sections of society are particularly vulnerable, and it is disheartening to note that this social menace is spreading to the rural areas of the country.

The judicial system too has to be ramped up in order to ensure that justice is expeditiously delivered. When it takes several years to bring to book and mete out punishment to those accused of the most heinous crimes, there is no deterrent to those inclined to commit such offences. This is an area that needs the urgent attention of the Government, as well as those involved in the administration of Justice. The Bar Association, with the help of its members who are practitioners in this field, will be able to give valuable insights into which shape such Legal Reforms should take.

While the Government’s decision to address the issue of crime is welcome, it must ensure that whatever steps it embarks on, do not make the remedy worse than the disease, by making dents in the Rule of Law, through arbitrary and irrational decisions.


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