international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1st Optional Protocol to the Covenant
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Capital crimes are: murder, causing an innocent person to be executed by bearing false witness, offences against the State, economic offences, drug offences and arms trading.
The island’s history of executions goes back to when Sri Lanka was the British colony known as Ceylon. The first hanging was held on 11 February 1884, at Welikada Prison. During that time, a total of 1,868 men and women were executed.
The last execution was carried out on, 23 June 1976 – nearly 20 years after Sri Lanka achieved independence – when Jayasinghe Chandradasa, a 27-year-old farmer convicted of murder, was hanged to death.
In 2017, according the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs, Sri Lanka imposed 218 new death sentences in 2017 and 2,717 people were under sentence of death at the end of the year.
In 2016, according to Amnesty International, at least 79 people were sentenced to death.
In 2015, according to Amnesty International, at least 51 people were sentenced to death, mostly for murder and at least 3 for drug-related offences.
As of April 2016, there were 1,004 death row prisoners, 28 women, according to the Commissioner General of Prisons, Thushara Upuldeniya on a total of 16,000 prisoners.
According to the Prisons Act, condemned prisoners are not allowed to mingle with the convicted prisoners, and have to be kept in isolation. They have a tiny cell and a small corridor leading to their cells away from their fellow prisoners, and they do not even see or hear each other. The only privilege they have is to walk along the corridors of their cells.
After searching for an executioner for three years, in October 2015, Sri Lanka’s Prison Department Sri Lanka said it had hired two new executioners to replace the previous hangman. It had appointed the latest hangman in March 2014. However, the hangman selected for the job got distressed on seeing the gallows for the first time and resigned from the post. Two other hangmen hired in 2013 failed to show up for work.
Many attempts have been made by various governments to resume executions, but with no result due to large-scale protests that occurred in the country.
On 14 September 2015, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in his address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva stated that Sri Lanka would not implement the capital punishment. However, on 18 September, President Maithripala Sirisena, told a meeting in Galle that he would implement capital punishment if parliament approved. Though the penalty can be imposed via his executive powers, “I thought that the better option was debate in the parliament,” he said. “As a leader who respects moral principles, I will pay strict attention to the demand of the people to enforce the death penalty.”
On 6 October 2015, Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha told the parliament that Sri Lanka will not implement the death penalty temporarily as the country has decided to vote in favor of the UN resolution for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty when the vote is taken at the UN General Assembly. Emphasizing that more than 100 countries have abolished the death penalty, the Minister told the parliament that especially in democratic countries punishments are aimed at correction and rehabilitation. The world opinion with regard to the capital punishment is in favor of not implementing it, he added.
On 4 January 2016, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) in a letter to the President recommended the abolition of the death penalty in Sri Lanka. The Commission, set up by the Government in 1996 to promote and protect human rights in the country, in the letter states that death penalty should be abolished in keeping with Sri Lanka's commitment to a more humane society consonant with human rights, principles and values.
On 9 April 2017, a special Task Force (TF) appointed by the Cabinet to look into congestion in prisons tabled a report in Parliament by Chief Government Whip, Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media Minister Gayantha Karunatileka, to propose that, the Government consider commuting death sentences to life imprisonment, and consider parole for those serving life sentences according to the existing laws. "The Govt. has to consider alternative action to manage overcrowding of prisons, as life sentenced and death penalty prisoners contribute greatly to overcrowding. To date, there are a total of 1,082 persons on death row, 726 cases remain under appeal, while Life sentence prisoners total 555, with 463 cases under appeal," the report said. Sri Lanka's prison population at present stands at around 17,000 (7,496 convicted prisoners, 8,351 remand prisoners and 1,143 prisoners whose cases are under appeal) Commutation of the death penalty or suspension of executions
President Maithripala Sirisena has commuted 247 death sentences to life imprisonment since he assumed office in January 2015. President Sirisena gave such concession to 34 death row inmates in December 2015. Another batch of 83 such prisoners got their sentence commuted to life on 22 April 2016, and 70 more prisoners had their sentences commuted on 27 May 2016.
On 2 February 2017, the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has decided to commute the sentences of 60 prisoners in death row to life sentences prisoners on account of the 69th Independence Day on February 4. The death row convicts will be considered for parole only after they served a minimum sentence of 20 years and their pleas for any relief will be referred to the parole board once in four years after that.
Although Sri Lankan courts give death penalty in serious crimes such as murder, rape and drug trafficking, no executions have been carried out since 1976.
The death sentences were commuted on recommendations made by an expert committee established by the previous government in October 2013 and headed by retired Supreme Court judge Nimal E. Dissanayake. The committee included Secretary to the Justice Ministry, additional Solicitor General and Prisons Commissioner. The committee had inquired into cases of nearly 400 convicts out of nearly 1,200 on death row and recommended the commutation of their death sentence. Some prisoners on death row have served between 20 to 30 years inside their cells. The death penalty on women
In Sri Lanka, at the end of April 2016, there were 28 women on death row out of a total of 1,004 people sentenced to death, according to Thushara Upuldeniya, Commissionair for prisons and port parole of the Prison Department. United Nations
In March 2018, in its response to the recommendations received under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council of November 2017, Sri Lanka accepted reccomendations to consider to ratify the Second Optional Protocol on Civil and Political Rights and to consider to abolish the death penalty.
On 17 December 2018, Sri Lanka voted in favor of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly, as in 2016, 2010, 2008 and 2007. In 2014 and 2012 it abstained.