Leaders of Sri Lanka and other Asian nations where the death penalty is still in force, lack the courage to abolish death penalty as they fear the un-informed public opinion, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.
Delivering the opening address at the first plenary session of Sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty on “Progress and set-backs in Asia: lessons to be learnt” on Wednesday (June 22), the Sri Lankan Minister said the vast majority of his colleagues in Parliament find the death penalty morally repugnant and are aware of its inefficaciousness but they fear the knee-jerk reaction of uninformed public opinion and unwilling to take the courageous step the Government took in 1956 passing a bill to abolish the death penalty.
He said this fear is true not only of legislators and jurors in Sri Lanka, but of other Asian states where the death penalty is yet to be abolished.
“Therefore, the common challenge facing us today is persuading our respective people and perhaps even more importantly having the collective courage to lead by acting,” Minister Samaraweera said.
Although the bill to abolish the death penalty passed in Sri Lanka’s parliament in 1956, the death penalty was resumed a few years later as result of former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s assassination until a de facto moratorium was instituted in 1976.
The Minister said momentum is slowly building in Asia, where more executions take place than the rest of the world combined. In 2007, twenty four Asian states voted against the UN Resolution on a Death Penalty Moratorium, in 2014 that number had declined to 18.
Minister Samaraweera said that Sri Lanka’s Minister of Justice, who will also be addressing a session at the Conference, has informed Parliament that Sri Lanka will return to its traditional position of voting in favor of this resolution as it did in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and, more importantly, continuing the four decades long de facto moratorium.
He said that abolishing the death penalty requires persuasion and resolve but above all it requires leadership – the collective leadership of legislators, activists, editors, academics and jurors.
“As momentum towards critical mass develops, I am confident that the coming years will see the death of the death penalty in our region,” the Minister concluded.