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Sri Lanka: Convert death sentences to life in prison


The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has proposed to the government that death sentences imposed on convicts be converted to life imprisonment.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) will propose to the government that death sentences imposed on convicts be converted to life imprisonment, according to a report in The Nation.

Commissioner Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa said that the HRCSL would also recommend that the government explore the possibility of ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966. The Second Optional Protocol is aimed at abolition of the death penalty.

Explaining the reasons behind the proposal to convert death sentences to life imprisonment, Dr. Mahanamahewa said the HRCSL had made visits to prisons island-wide. In the course of these visits, members had met with inmates who were on death row.

"There are currently over 540 prisoners on death row. We met many of them and they have serious mental and physical illnesses. Though they have been sentenced to death, the death penalty has not been implemented in Sri Lanka since 1976," Dr. Mahanamahewa observed.

Not knowing when and if their sentences will be carried out is causing enormous suffering to these individuals, who are appealing to authorities to either hang them or release them, the Commissioner added.

"Of course, we're not suggesting that they be released. There must be punishment for a crime. However, the right to life is a basic human right that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though that guarantee is missing from the 1978 Sri Lankan Constitution."

While the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee right to life, the Supreme Court has given a broad interpretation on the matter in cases such as Sriyani Silva vs. OIC of the Payagala Police in 2003, where it was stated an individual had a right not to be arbitrary detained, tortured and thereafter deprived of life, the commissioner pointed out.

Therefore, it is recommended that the right to life of these prisoners be guaranteed through their sentences being commuted to life in prison, Dr. Mahanamahewa said.

In addition, the HRCSL has also noted that issue of overcrowding at Sri Lanka's prisons was a serious problem, with prisons set to accommodate 4,000-6,000 being used to accommodate 14,000-16,000 inmates.

Date: 10 July 2014

Source: The Nation

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  1. APF, Michael Power