04 June 2015

The President and Capital Punishment

Waiting for premeditated legal murder
Is the European Union (EU) some kind of arbitration body that is positioned above the Sri Lankan Parliament, its Executive President and the Supreme Court?  The question has to be asked in view of a report claiming that ‘the EU opposes Sri Lanka resuming judicial executions under any circumstances’.

Apparently the EU has told successive governments that it is opposed to the resumption of judicial executions and has consistently asked for the extension of the moratorium on capital punishment.  

The news value of this telling obtains from a recent statement made by President Maithripala Sirisena that those found guilt of drug trafficking should be dealt with the death penalty.  It is a sentiment that his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa has shared.  Rajapaksa is on record saying ‘there are times for example in the case of drug related crimes that I feel we should implement the death sentence’.  

Countries have cultures.  Countries have laws.  Countries have preferences.  The EU is fine with a lot of things that many people abhor.  The EU has consistently played approver of all manner of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the United States of America, for example.  If Sri Lanka (or any other country) ‘urged’ the EU to stop acting tail to the USA dog, will it listen?  No.  The statement is an insult to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.  The President could (if he shows a lot more guts than he has so far) do what Robert Mugabe once did to Tony Blair, viz ‘You look after your country Blair, I will look after mine’.

Once he does that, however, he can return to the question of capital punishment.  He can ask himself whether capital punishment has any justification.  He can reflect on the moments when the cry for capital punishment is loudest and ask himself why.

Each time someone calls for the implementation of the death penalty or the lifting on what has in effect become a moratorium on capital punishment it has followed some gruesome crime.  The killing of a judge for example prompted the Bar Association to call for the resumption of premeditated legal murder (which is what the death penalty is).  Rape and murder of a child, similarly, results in similar calls.  Drug related crimes and terrorist attacks also see advocates of capital punishment becoming more vocal than usual.  What’s all that if not a deference to emotion rather than reason?  Surely something as serious and irrevocable as the death penalty should be free from ‘passion’, in either advocacy or objection?  

Let Maithripala Sirisena read Albert Camus’ ‘Reflections on the Guillotine’.  That was a text that prompted France to do away with the death penalty. Forget France, forget Camus.  The President can ask himself some questions. He can reflect deeply.  He can come up with some answers.  We can ask the questions from ourselves too. We can also answer.  

Does the punishment fit the crime, ever?  No. Is it a deterrent?  No.  If it is a matter of ensuring that society is protected from the wrongdoer, are there other options? Yes, imprisonment.  In the case of an error in judgment can it be revoked and the wrongly judged suitably compensated? No. 

President Sirisena cannot, like some of Sri Lanka’s staunchest patriots, object to something simply because it is proposed by an interfering group of countries that have always treated countries like Sri Lanka as subordinate entities. So the President should tell the EU where to get off, not for what is advocated but for the advocacy.  He cannot tell the people of Sri Lanka where to get off, however.  He cannot ask reason to take a break.  He cannot ask morality to retire.