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Saturday, 17 September 2011






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Government Gazette

NCPA urges Capital Punishment - a point of view

"Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore you do not kill or cause to be killed." - Dhammapada

I was surprised and dismayed to read in your paper on September 9 that the Chairperson of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Anoma Dissanayake is planning to make a proposal to the government to enact laws to impose capital punishment for child abuse.

While I totally agree with her that the NCPA's objective is to minimise instances of child abuse, that laws would be enacted to strengthen the activities of the NCPA, and also prompt action was necessary as over 4,000 complaints of child abuse had been received by the NCPA during the past year alone, I regret her plans to request imposing capital punishment for those found guilty of child abuse.

Although the death penalty is in our statute books, we have not implemented it since 1976. Presidents J. R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, D. B. Wijethunga, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa quite correctly did not implement the death penalty.

Of the 193 countries of the world, 95 have abolished the death penalty for all offences. 49 countries retain the death penalty, though not used for at least 10 years.

Eight countries have abolished it for all offences except under special circumstances and only 41 countries retain the death penalty. The objectives of a punishment for an offence are rehabilitation, retribution and deterrent. By executing a person all doors for rehabilitation are permanently and totally closed. There is no statistical or other evidence to prove that Capital Punishment or the fear of it, is effective in deterring crime.

For example, Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. The House of Commons passed a Bill abolishing Capital Punishment from the Canadian Criminal Code and replacing it with a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole for 25 years for all first-degree murders.

Contrary to predictions by death penalty supporters, the homicide rate in Canada did not increase after abolition in 1976. In fact, the Canadian murder rate declined slightly the following year, from 2.8 per 100,000 to 2.7! Over the next 20 years, the homicide rate fluctuated between 2.2 and 2.8 per 100,000 population, but the general trend was clearly downwards.

The judicial verdicts are not always correct. The verdict is a result of the evidence presented and therefore if the evidence is false the verdict is flawed.

We see that some accused convicted of crime are freed by the appeal court, because the original judgement was wrong.

Since 1973, more than 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the US, due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. If that could happen in the US, how do we know how many people are charged for crimes and murders they have never committed, and then convicted in Sri Lanka?

Some innocent people have been executed due to wrong verdicts.

Inadequate and unsatisfactory legal representations, police and prosecutor inefficiency/misconduct, political pressure to solve a case, false evidence and misinterpretation of evidence, etc. can lead to innocent persons being convicted.

To reduce crime, we need resources and facilities for efficient and quick Police investigations, improved and modern facilities for scientific work, fast track judicial system for crimes like murder, sexual offences and child abuse, and a uniform and deterrent sentencing policy. A life imprisonment for a serious crime is a severe punishment. The agony of the convicted for decades spent in prison is an adequate punishment for any crime.

We certainly do not need the death penalty. It is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It will not reduce the incidence of child abuse.

[email protected]

Professor Ravindra Fernando

Senior Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, University of Colombo


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