Sri Lanka: resumption of executions after 42 years would be unconscionable

The Sri Lankan Government should reconsider and reverse its decision to bring back the death penalty for drug related offences, the ICJ said today.

On 10 July, the Sri Lankan Cabinet unanimously approved an action plan to implement the death penalty for “drug smugglers”.

According to the spokesperson of the Cabinet, 19 people convicted for “large scale drug offences” who “are still involved in drug trafficking…from within prisons” would initially be those initially designated for execution.

Sri Lanka has had a moratorium on the death penalty for over four decades.

The last execution carried out in the country was in 1976.

“The resumption of executions of convicted drug offenders would constitute a violation of the right to life under international law,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

”And, based on experience around the globe, it will not in any way serve the purported objective of tackling the problems of drug-related crime in Sri Lanka,” he added.

Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Sri Lanka acceded to in 1980, guarantees the right to life and requires that states that have not yet abolished the death penalty must restrict capital punishment to only the “most serious crimes”.

The UN Human Rights Committee, the supervisory body for the ICCPR, considers that the death penalty may never be used for drug offences.

The extraordinarily retrograde measure of resuming executions following a 42-year moratorium would also constitute a violation of article 6, which contemplates at least progressive movement towards abolition.

The UN General Assembly has repeatedly adopted resolutions emphasizing that that the use of the death penalty undermines human dignity and calling on those countries that maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on its use with a view to its abolition.

In 2016, an overwhelming majority of 117 UN Member States – including Sri Lanka – voted in favor of a worldwide moratorium on executions as a step towards abolition of the death penalty.

“At least 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or practice,” added Seiderman.

The ICJ considers the death penalty to be a violation to the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

The ICJ urges Sri Lanka to reinstate its moratorium on executions and take steps towards taking all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty.


Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director, email: ian.seiderman(a)

Reema Omer, ICJ’s International Legal Advisor, South Asia, email: reema.omer(a)


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