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Sri Lanka: Human Rights Commission Recommends Ending Death Penalty

(Jan. 6, 2016) The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) recently recommended in a letter to the country’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, that Sri Lanka take two related steps: ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and abolish the death penalty in domestic legislation. The letter was also sent to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, and leaders in the legislature. (Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission Recommends Abolishing Death Penalty, COLOMBO PAGE (Jan. 4, 2016).) The HRCSL was established by the government in Act No. 21 of 1996, to protect human rights and carry out duties imposed on Sri Lanka under various treaties. (Establishment, HRCSL website (last visited Jan. 4, 2016).

The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights calls for the abolition of the death penalty. (Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, G.A. Res. 44/128 (Dec. 15, 1989), U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.) Sri Lanka’s Penal Code currently lists the death penalty as one of the possible punishments for criminal acts. (Penal Code, art. 52 (Jan. 1, 1885, as amended through Apr. 24, 2006), REFWORLD.) Although capital punishment has not been imposed by recent administrations, it is authorized under several statutes, in addition to the Code. (Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission Proposes Death Penalty Abolishment, NEW INDIAN EXPRESS (Jan. 4, 2016).)

The HRCSL argues that capital punishment is inconsistent with “Sri Lanka’s commitment to a more humane society consonant with human rights principles and values.” (Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission Recommends Abolishing Death Penalty, supra.) In addition to arguing that there is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime and citing the risk of an innocent person being executed due to flaws in the justice system, the Commission stated, “Sri Lanka should demonstrate its commitment to the sanctity of life and fundamental human rights principles by joining the more than 100 nations in the world that have abolished the death penalty thus far. Another 60 countries do not carry out death sentences in practice.” (Id.)