Death Penalty Database

Sri Lanka

Information current as of: April 4, 2011

General

Official Country Name

Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka). [1]

Geographical Region

Asia (South-central Asia). [2]

Death Penalty Law Status

Abolitionist de facto. Sri Lanka’s last execution occurred in 1976. [3]

Methods of Execution

Hanging. [4]

References

[1] U.S. Dept. of State, Background Note: Sri Lanka, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5249.htm, Jun. 7, 2010.
[2] U.N. World Macro Regions and Components, U.N. Doc. ST/ESA/STAT/SER.R/29, 2000.
[3] Amnesty Intl., Death Penalty: Countries Abolitionist in Practice, http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/countries-abolitionist-in-practice, accessed Nov. 29, 2010.
[4] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, art. 285, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.

Country Details

Language(s)

Sinhala, Tamil. [1]

Population

21,300,000. 21,300,000. [2]

Number of Individuals Currently Under Sentence of Death

At least 400. In 2008, Amnesty International estimated 167 individuals were on death row, with 108 additional death sentences imposed in 2009. [3] News sources, such as Lanka Journal Newspaper, which lists 256 individuals on death row in 2009, and Asia Death Penalty, which lists 273 individuals on death row in 2009, are relatively consistent with the numbers provided by Amnesty International. [4] In late 2010, the Colombo Pagereported that a Commission was instituted to review the death sentences of the 400 death row inmates and advise whether to issue mass pardons and commutations. [5] The figure reported by the Colombo Page is consistent with Amnesty’s earlier estimates if we assume a comparable number of additional death sentences were imposed in 2010.

Note that in 2009 as many as 540 prisoners were appealing a sentence of death, and not yet considered to be on death row. The number of individuals who have been sentenced to death is higher than the number considered to be on death row in Sri Lanka—for instance, in 2009, 796 individuals had been sentenced to death, but only 256 were considered to be on death row. [6] We do not know how many appeals have been successful. The number of people held under sentence of death (which includes people who are appealing a death sentence) is likely higher than the 400 who, in 2010, were on death row, but we do not know how much higher.

Annual Number of Reported Executions

Executions in 2017 to date (last updated on June 21, 2017)

0. [7]

Executions in 2016

0. [8]

Per capita execution rate in 2016

Executions in 2015

0. [9]

Per capita execution rate in 2015

0 executions.

Executions in 2014

0. [10]

Per capita execution rate in 2014

0 executions

Executions in 2013

0. [11]

Per capita execution rate in 2013

0 executions

Executions in 2012

0. [12]

Per capita execution rate in 2012

0 executions

Executions in 2011

0. [13]

Per capita execution rate in 2011

0 executions

Executions in 2010

0. [14]

Executions in 2009

0. [15]

Executions in 2008

0. [16]

Executions in 2007

0. [17]

Year of Last Known Execution

1976. [18]

References

[1] U.S. Dept. of State, Background Note: Sri Lanka, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5249.htm, Jun. 7, 2010.
[2] U.S. Dept. of State, Background Note: Sri Lanka, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5249.htm, Jun. 7, 2010.
[3] Mark Warren, The Death Penalty Worldwide: Estimated Death Row Populations, http://users.xplornet.com/~mwarren/global.htm, Oct. 8, 2010.
[4] Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009; The Hindu, Sri Lanka Mulls Reintroducing Death Penalty, http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/003200907261521.htm, Jul. 26, 2009. Note that this source incorrectly states that the last execution, that of Maru Sira, was in 2003. Maru Sira was asphyxiated in a controversial execution in 1975, and was not executed in 2003.
[5] ColumboPage, Sri Lanka: Committee Appointed to Recommend Proposals on Sri Lanka Death Row Convicts, http://www.colombopage.com/archive_10B/Oct31_1288510376JR.php, Oct. 31, 2010.
[6] Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009.
[7] DPW Executions and Death Sentences Monitor.
[8] Amnesty International, Death sentences and executions in 2016, ACT 50/5740/2017, Apr. 11, 2017.
[9] DPW Executions and Death Sentences Monitor.
[10] Amnesty Intl., Executions and Death Sentences in 2014, ACT 50/001/2015, Mar. 31, 2015.
[11] Amnesty Intl., Death Sentences and Executions in 2013, ACT 50/001/2014, Mar. 26, 2014.
[12] Amnesty Intl., Death Sentences and Executions in 2012, ACT 50/001/2012, Apr. 9, 2013.
[13] Amnesty Intl., Death Sentences and Executions in 2011, ACT 50/001/2012, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ACT50/001/2012/en, Mar. 27, 2012.
[14] Amnesty Intl., Death Sentences and Executions in 2010, p. 5, ACT 50/001/2011, Mar. 28, 2011.
[15] Amnesty Intl., Death Sentences and Executions in 2009, PINCITE, ACT 50/001/2010, Mar. 30, 2010.
[16] Amnesty International Death Sentences and Executions in 2008 (10/8) – updated 2009
[17] Amnesty International Death Sentences and Executions in 2007 (10/8) – updated April15, 2008
[18] Amnesty Intl., Death Penalty: Countries Abolitionist in Practice, http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/countries-abolitionist-in-practice, accessed Nov. 29, 2010.

Crimes and Offenders Punishable By Death

Crimes Punishable by Death

Murder.
“Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death.” [1]

Other Offenses Resulting in Death.
“[If] an innocent person be convicted and executed in consequence of … false evidence, the person who gives such false evidence shall be punished with death.” [2] “If any person commits suicide whoever abets the commission of such suicide shall be punished with death.” [3] Culpable homicide committed with the use of a gun is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [4]

Rape Not Resulting in Death.
“[If] an innocent person be convicted and executed in consequence of … false evidence, the person who gives such false evidence shall be punished with death.” [5] “If any person commits suicide whoever abets the commission of such suicide shall be punished with death.” [6] Culpable homicide committed with the use of a gun is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [7]

Robbery Not Resulting in Death.
Robbery committed with the use of a gun is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [8]

Kidnapping Not Resulting in Death.
Kidnapping or abduction committed with the use of a gun is punishable by death or life imprisonment. This affects offenses of abduction, kidnapping, and human trafficking. [9]

Drug Trafficking Not Resulting in Death.
Under Section 54(A-B) of the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, anyone who manufactures heroin, cocaine, morphine or opium is liable to a sentence of death or life imprisonment. Under Schedule 3, Parts II and III, trafficking, importing or exporting more than 500 grams of a number of substances is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [10] Additionally, any drug offense under that Ordinance, when committed with the use of a gun, is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [11]

Drug Possession.
Under Schedule 3, Parts II and III of the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, anyone who possesses more than 500 grams of a number of substances is punishable by death or life imprisonment (but this may be only in relation to trafficking). [12] Additionally, any drug offense under that Ordinance, when committed with the use of a gun, is punishable by death or life imprisonment (again, this may be in relation to trafficking). [13]

Treason.
“Whoever wages war against the Republic, or attempts to wage such war, or abets the waging of such war, shall be punished with death…or imprisonment.” [14] Offenses against the state committed with a gun are punishable by death or life imprisonment. [15]

Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
Offenses (of civilians) relating to the armed forces committed with the use of a gun are punishable by death or life imprisonment. [16] Also (regarding civilians), “[w]hoever abets the committing of mutiny by an officer, soldier, sailor, or airman in the Army, Navy, or Air Force of the Republic shall if mutiny be committed in consequence of that abetment, be punished with death or imprisonment…” [17]

Offenses of military personnel in the Army or Air Force in breach of military discipline or duty are punishable by death. Such offenses include cowardice, disregarding warlike orders, mutiny, destruction of military assets, acts calculated to undermine operational success, giving false signals, treachery, giving a parole, watchword or countersign to the enemy, espionage, assisting the enemy, voluntarily serving or aiding the enemy if taken prisoner. Additionally, individuals subject to these military laws are “liable to suffer death” for treason (or murder). [18]

Officers in the Navy “shall be punished with death” for traitorous failure to engage the “enemy, pirate or rebel” or face death or other punishments for failures out of cowardice; they are also punishable with death for failing to defend mariner convoys or demanding compensation for protection. [19] Spies (whether members of the Navy or not) are punishable with death or lesser penalties. [20] Offenses of personnel in the Navy in breach of military discipline or duty are punishable by death, including: abandoning one’s post (traitorously or in cowardice), mutiny or incitement thereof, failure to suppress mutiny (traitorously or in cowardice), desertion to the enemy or unlawful arson of noncombatant property. In those cases, traitorous activity “shall be punished with death.” [21] Treasonable offenses (and murder) “shall be punished with death.” [22]

Other Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
Extortion committed with the use of a gun is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [23]

Causing harm with the use of a gun is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [24] Assault or criminal force on a public servant, or of a sexual nature or in committing theft, with the use of a gun, is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [25] Attempting murder or attempting an act that would amount to culpable homicide, with the use of a gun, is punishable by death or life imprisonment. [26]

Human trafficking offenses committed with the use of a gun are punishable by death or life imprisonment. [27]

Comments.
Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, individuals who are accused of acts of terrorism that could otherwise be tried as death-eligible offenses under the Penal Code or the Firearms Act can be tried instead with reduced process rights (seemingly by judges in the ordinary court system), but do not face the death penalty in this circumstance. If individuals are tried under the Terrorism Act, they will not face the death penalty. [28]

Does the country have a mandatory death penalty?

Yes. According to penal code the death penalty is mandatory for murder [29] Some Naval offenses, and possibly Army and Air Force offenses, carry the mandatory death penalty. [30]

Some jurisprudence confirms that the death penalty is mandatory for murder. In Weerawardane v. State (1999), the Court overturned a guilty plea to murder charges, based on the premise that “a conviction for [murder] necessarily entails capital punishment.” Although a trial court can consider statutory mitigating factors that reduce the offender’s culpability – sometimes known as a diminished capacity defense -- it essentially has no discretion to consider mitigating factors at sentencing. [31]

At least one expert does not enumerate Sri Lanka among those countries applying the mandatory death penalty. [32] However, in our survey of jurisprudence we could not find a single case where the offense of murder was not punished with death. [33] In any case where a killing was not punished with death, the charge of murder had been reduced to culpable homicide for statutory mitigating factors such as intoxication, [34] provocation [35] or lack of common murderous intent. [36] This sort of discretion only lessens culpability, and does not operate as mitigation of sentence..

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, before sentencing a convict to death the court must allow the convict to submit reasons he should not be executed. The judge must then submit to the President a report of the case and an evaluation of whether the sentence of death is appropriate. [37] Additionally, the Constitution provides that the President must forward the report to the Attorney General, who forwards it to the Minister of Justice with his advice, who forwards it to the President with his recommendation. [38] Although this has been described as a process that requires the approval of the judge for a death sentence (which would constitute discretionary sentencing), [39] in fact this is a clemency process in which the judge has absolutely no authority to determine an appropriate sentence less than death. [40]

For Which Offenses, If Any, Is a Mandatory Death Sentence Imposed?

Murder.
“Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death.” [41]

Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
Personnel subject to the law of the Army, Air Force or Navy who commit treason (or murder) “shall be liable to suffer death” or “shall be punished with death.” [42]

Crimes For Which Individuals Have Been Executed Since January 2008:

The last known execution occurred in 1976. [43]

Categories of Offenders Excluded From the Death Penalty:

Individuals Below Age 18 At Time of Crime.
The Penal Code provides: “Sentence of death shall not be pronounced on or recorded against any person who, in the opinion of the court, is under the age of eighteen years; but, in lieu of that punishment, the court shall sentence such person to be detained during the President’s pleasure.” [44] Sri Lanka is a party to the ICCPR [45] and Convention on the Rights of the Child, [46] which prohibit such executions.

Pregnant Women.
The Penal Code provides: “Sentence of death shall not be pronounced on or recorded against any woman who is found in accordance with the provisions of section 282 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, to be pregnant at the time of her conviction; but, in lieu of that punishment, the court shall sentence her to imprisonment of either description for life or for any other term.” [47] Sri Lanka is a party to the ICCPR, which prohibits such executions. [48]

Intellectually Disabled.
The Code of Criminal Procedure contains some language that could protect intellectually disabled persons who are less able to avail themselves of the safeguard of a fair trial. “If the accused though not insane cannot be made to understand the proceedings the Magistrate's Court or the High Court as the case may be, may proceed with the inquiry or trial, and if such inquiry results in a commitment or if such trial results in a conviction the proceedings shall be forwarded to the Court of Appeal with a report of the circumstances of the case and the Court of Appeal shall pass thereon such order as it thinks fit.” [49] We do not know how this language is, in practice, interpreted and applied.

Mentally Ill.
The Penal Code provides: “Nothing is an offense which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong of contrary to law.” Intoxication provides a limited defense. [50] The Code of Criminal Procedure mirrors this protection, providing that the Court of Appeal may quash a sentence on the grounds that the trial court should have found the accused insane at the time of his offense. [51] Also, if the accused is determined to be of unsound mind and incapable of making a defense at the Magistrate Court or High Court, then the proceedings are postponed. [52] Finally, individuals who are deemed sane but unable to understand proceedings may receive legal protections. [53]

References

[1] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[2] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[3] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[4] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 293-297, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Culpable homicide is an act that would qualify as murder except for some excuse such as provocation. Note that we have cited additional definitional sections beyond those referenced in the Firearms Ordinance.
[5] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[6] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[7] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 293-297, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Culpable homicide is an act that would qualify as murder except for some excuse such as provocation. Note that we have cited additional definitional sections beyond those referenced in the Firearms Ordinance.
[8] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 379-385, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Robbery is attempted or successful theft or extortion by menace. Note that we have cited additional definitional sections beyond those referenced in the Firearms Ordinance.
[9] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 350-360(A), amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Note that we have cited additional definitional sections beyond those referenced in the Firearms Ordinance.
[10] Sri Lanka Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, secs. 5, 14, No. 13 of 1984.
[11] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996.
[12] Sri Lanka Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, secs. 5, 14, No. 13 of 1984.
[13] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996.
[14] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[15] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 114-127, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Note that the Articles denoted by the Firearms Ordinance are 114-123, but there may be a misprint in the Schedule to the Ordinance.
[16] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 128-137, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Note that the Articles denoted by the Firearms Ordinance are 123-133, but Articles 123-127 are treasonable offenses, so this must be a misprint in the Schedule to the Ordinance. We simply noted all of offenses relating to military personnel, the application of the Ordinance may be more limited.
[17] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, art. 129, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[18] Sri Lanka Air Force Act of 1949, arts. 95, 97, 98, 131(1-2), amended by Act No. 9 of 1993; Sri Lanka Army Act of 1949, arts. 95, 97, 98, 131(1-2),amended by Act No. 10 of 1993.
[19] Sri Lanka Navy Act of 1950, arts. 54, 55, 92, amended by Act No. 53 of 1993.
[20] Sri Lanka Navy Act of 1950, arts. 57, 58, amended by Act No. 53 of 1993.
[21] Sri Lanka Navy Act of 1950, arts. 60, 63-65, 71, 83, amended by Act No. 53 of 1993.
[22] Sri Lanka Navy Act of 1950, art. 118(1-2), amended by Act No. 53 of 1993.
[23] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996.
[24] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 315-324, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[25] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 344, 345, 347, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006; S
[26] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294, 300-301, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Culpable homicide is an act that would qualify as murder except for some excuse such as provocation. Note that we have cited additional definitional sections beyond those referenced in the Firearms Ordinance.
[27] Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance, art. 44(A) & Schedule C, amended by Act No. 22 of 1996; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 350-360(A), amended by Act No. 16 of 2006. Primarily, these Articles might affect the stage of trafficking at which the victim is actually seized, although under Schedule C other individuals might be affected as abettors. Schedule C refers to some articles of the Penal Code that are not printed in the version amended by 2006.

Note that we have cited additional definitional sections beyond those referenced in the Firearms Ordinance.

[28] Sri Lanka Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979, amended by Act No. 22 of 1988. For death eligible offenses, see the Sri Lanka Penal Code or Schedule III of the Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance.
[29] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[30] For example, see Sri Lanka Navy Act, art. 118(1-2), amended by Act No. 53 of 1993; Sri Lanka Air Force Act of 1949, art. 131(1-2), amended by Act No. 9 of 1993; Sri Lanka Army Act of 1949, art. 131(1-2),amended by Act No. 10 of 1993. Note that the Army and Air Force acts use “shall be liable to” instead of “shall be punished with,” and this difference could be significant. King v. Banda, Court of Criminal Appeal of Sri Lanka, Nov. 19, 1942.
[31] Weerawardane v. State , Appeal No. 52 of 1998, Court of Appeal, Oct. 21, 1999.
[32] Roger Hood & Carolyn Hoyle, The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective, 4th ed., p. 279, Oxford University Press, 2008.
[33] Sri Lanka’s cases are searchable online through the World Legal Information Institute at http://www.worldlii.org/lk/, last accessed Feb. 10, 2011.
[34] Jayathilake v. Attorney General, Appeal No. 8 of 2000, Court of Appeal, Jan. 1, 2003.
[35] Chuti v. Attorney General, Appeal No. 41 of 1991, Court of Appeal, Oct. 23, 2002.
[36] Raju v. Attorney General, Appeals Nos. 89-91 of 1998, Court of Appeal, Dec. 11, 2002.
[37] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, arts. 280, 286, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.
[38] Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka of 1978, art. 34, as amended through 2000.
[39] Wije Dias, Sri Lankan President Moves to Reinstate Death Penalty, World Socialist Web Site, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/nov2004/sri-n26.shtml, Nov. 26, 2004. Article 34 of the Constitution does not describe the process the author insists is followed, and we found no proof that anyone but the President has ultimate authority. The fact that the sentencing judge, Attorney General and Minister of Justice are involved in an advisory process does not mean that a dissenting viewpoint can stop the President’s approval of an execution.
[40] See, for example, BBC News, Sri Lanka Revives the Death Penalty, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/296124.stm, Mar. 13, 1999. The decision whether to commute a death sentence that is entirely controlled by the President—as is typical in systems that describe the process we outlined in the text above. Our evaluation would change if the facts were shown to be different.
[41] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[42] Sri Lanka Air Force Act of 1949, art. 131(1-2), amended by Act No. 9 of 1993; Sri Lanka Army Act of 1949, art. 131(1-2),amended by Act No. 10 of 1993; Sri Lanka Navy Act, art. 118(1-2), amended by Act No. 53 of 1993. In general, “liable to” is interpreted as “exposed to,” although a court could interpret “liable to” as restricting discretion within a range of options, if the range is part of a gradation of punishments based on severity. King v. Banda, Court of Criminal Appeal of Sri Lanka, Nov. 19, 1942; Thiruchelvam v. Attorney General, Appeal No. 144 of 1994, Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Mar. 6, 1995.
[43] Amnesty Intl., Death Penalty: Countries Abolitionist in Practice, http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/countries-abolitionist-in-practice, accessed Nov. 29, 2010.
[44] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[45] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[46] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3, Nov. 20, 1989, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-11&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Feb. 11, 2011.
[47] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[48] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[49] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, art. 262, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.
[50] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, art. 77, 78, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[51] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, art. 338, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.
[52] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, arts. 373-378, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.
[53] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, art. 262, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.

International Commitments

ICCPR

Party?

Yes. [1]

Date of Accession

June 11, 1980. [2]

Signed?

No. [3]

Date of Signature

Not Applicable.

First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Recognizing Jurisdiction of the Human Rights Committee

Party?

Yes. [4]

Date of Accession

Oct. 3, 1997. [5]

Signed?

No. [6]

Date of Signature

Not Applicable.

Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Toward the Abolition of the Death Penalty

Party?

No. [7]

Date of Accession

Not Applicable.

Signed?

No. [8]

Date of Signature

Not Applicable.

American Convention on Human Rights

Party?

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Signed?

Not Applicable.

Date of Signature

Death Penalty Protocol to the ACHR

Party?

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Signed?

Not Applicable.

Date of Signature

African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)

Party?

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Signed?

Not Applicable.

Date of Signature

Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa

Party?

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Signed?

Not Applicable.

Date of Signature

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Party?

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Signed?

Not Applicable.

Date of Signature

Arab Charter on Human Rights

Party?

Not Applicable.

Date of Accession

Signed?

Not Applicable.

Date of Signature

2016 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

Vote

In Favor. [9]

2014 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

Cosponsor

No. [10]

Vote

Abstained. [11]

Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

No. [12]

2012 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

Cosponsor

No. [13]

Vote

Abstained. [14]

Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

No. [15]

2010 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

Cosponsor

No. [16]

Vote

In Favor. [17]

Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

No. [18]

2008 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

Cosponsor

No. [19]

Vote

In Favor. [20]

Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

No. [21]

2007 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution

Cosponsor

No. [22]

Vote

In Favor. [23]

Signed the Note Verbale of Dissociation

No. [24]

References

[1] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[2] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[3] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[4] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, Optional Prot. to the ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-5&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[5] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, Optional Prot. to the ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-5&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[6] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, Optional Prot. to the ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, Dec. 16, 1966, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-5&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[7] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, Second Optional Prot. to the ICCPR, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, 1642 U.N.T.S. 414, Dec. 15, 1989, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-12&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[8] Status, Declarations, and Reservations, Second Optional Prot. to the ICCPR, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, 1642 U.N.T.S. 414, Dec. 15, 1989, http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-12&chapter=4&lang=en, last accessed Dec. 8, 2010.
[9] U.N.G.A., 71st Session, Recorded Vote on A/C.3/71/L.27 Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty, Nov. 17, 2016.
[10] U.N.G.A., 69th Session, Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, paras. 141, 144, U.N. Doc. A/69/488/Add.2, Dec. 8, 2014.
[11] U.N.G.A., 69th Session, 73rd Plenary Meeting, pp. 17-18, U.N. Doc. A/69/PV.73, Dec. 18, 2014.
[12] U.N.G.A., 69th Session, Note Verbale dated 28 July 2015, U.N. Doc. A/69/993, Jul. 29, 2015.
[13] U.N.G.A., 67th Session, Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, paras. 95-96, U.N. Doc. A/67/457/Add.2, Dec. 8, 2012.
[14] U.N.G.A., 67th Session, 60th Plenary Meeting, pp. 16-17, U.N. Doc. A/67/PV.60, Dec. 20, 2012.
[15] U.N.G.A., 67th Session, Note Verbale dated 16 April 2013, U.N. Doc. A/67/841, Apr. 23, 2013.
[16] U.N.G.A., 65th Session, Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, p. 5, U.N. Doc. A/65/456/Add.2, Dec. 8, 2010.
[17] U.N.G.A., 65th Session, 71st Plenary Meeting, pp. 18-19, U.N. Doc. A/65/PV.71, Dec. 21, 2010.
[18] U.N.G.A., 65th Session, Note Verbale dated 11 March 2011, U.N. Doc. A/65/779, Mar. 11, 2011.
[19] U.N.G.A., 63rd session, Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,U.N. Doc. A/63/430/Add.2, Dec. 4, 2008.
[20] U.N.G.A., 63rd Session, 70th Plenary Meeting, pp. 16- 17, U.N. Doc. A/63/PV.70, Dec. 18, 2008
[21] U.N.G.A., 63rd Session, Note Verbale dated 10 February 2009, U.N. Doc. A/63/716, Feb. 12, 2009.
[22] U.N.G.A., 62nd Session, Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

U.N. Doc. A/62/439/Add.2, Dec. 5, 2007.

[23] U.N.G.A., 62nd Session, 76th Plenary Meeting, pp. 16- 17, U.N. Doc. A/62/PV.76, Dec. 18, 2007.
[24] U.N.G.A., 62nd Session, Note Verbale dated 11 January 2008, U.N. Doc. A/62/658, Feb. 2, 2008.

Death Penalty In Law

Does the country’s constitution make reference to capital punishment?

The Constitution provides: “No person shall be punished with death or imprisonment except by order of a competent court, made in accordance with procedure established by law.” [1]

Does the country’s constitution make reference to international law?

The Constitution provides: ”The State shall promote international peace, security and co-operation, and the establishment of a just and equitable international economic and social order, and shall endeavor to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in dealings among nations.” [2]

The Constitution also defines the scope of executive power to be consistent with the actions which an executive may, by international law or custom, be “required or authorized to do.” [3]

Have there been any significant changes in the application of the death penalty over the last several years?

No executions have occurred since 1976. However, there are occasionally proposals to resume executions and tighten amnesties in response to rising crime rates, [4] despite Sri Lanka’s support for a global moratorium on the death penalty. [5]

A recent news report by Colombo Page (10/31/10), states that a Commission evaluating the status of death sentenced prisoners might recommend the commutation of all 400 individuals on death row to life imprisonment. [6]

Is there currently an official moratorium on executions within the country?

It is debatable whether there is an official moratorium on executions in Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka supports a global moratorium on executions and has urged other states to do the same. [7] Upon occasion, the President has deferred the policy of automatic commutations of death sentences, threatening to resume executions, and officials who are involved in the clemency process but lack the authority to determine death penalty policy have announced that they will end the policy of commutations. [8] The reality today is that the latest discussion on whether to lift the longstanding moratorium on executions seems to have begun in 2009. [9] Executions have not occurred in Sri Lanka since 1976. [10]

One source claims that the reason for the longstanding moratorium is that the agreement of the trial judge, Attorney General, Minister of Justice and the President is needed before a death warrant is issued, and if there is no agreement, the sentence is automatically commuted. [11] Contrary to the source’s reading, Article 34 of the Constitution requires only an advisory process in which the President makes the ultimate determination, there is no provision for automatic commutation, and there are 400 or more individuals on death row. In practical terms, the President may be influenced by the opinions of his advisors—and as the previous discussion shows, may rely on their determinations. Given the varied Presidential and administrative stances on the issue of executions over the past ten years, and the consistency of abolitionist de facto policy, it is more reasonable to conclude that reinstituting executions would be a radical departure from a longstanding policy that is favored by a number of the population, and as such the semi-official moratorium may continue until outright abolition.

On February 24, 2011, reports indicated that the state-owned Dinamina newspaper conducted a survey in which 88% of respondents wanted the death penalty to be carried out. The results of the survey were forwarded to the President. [12]

Have there been any significant published cases concerning the death penalty in national courts?

We found no significant cases altering the application of the death penalty, but did research a few cases that outline when courts may convict a defendant of a crime less than murder and thus deliver a sentence less than death. The death penalty for a murder conviction is mandatory; hence, courts cannot permit a plea of guilty to murder. This was the case in Weerawardane v. State, in which the accused person pleaded guilty to murder, and therefore, the court rejected that plea because it would otherwise not be able to consider whether excuses (such as provocation, intoxication or lack of shared intent or knowledge) would justify a conviction on lesser charges, including culpable homicide. (The courts in Sri Lanka do not consider mitigation for the offense of murder.) [13]

The long-established case of King v. Banda is of relevance for the few military offenses where an offender is “liable to suffer death.” In King v. Banda, the court held that the word “liable” “can only mean that a convicted party is in peril” of a punishment. In that case, the court was determining whether a statutory provision that an offender was liable to suffer death or life imprisonment meant that imprisonment for a term of years was foreclosed. [14] In subsequent cases, courts have reiterated the principle that “liable” means “exposed to,” and usually should not be connoted in a mandatory fashion. [15] In one recent case, the Supreme Court held that the phrase “liable to suffer death or life imprisonment” placed a mandatory restriction on the Court’s discretion. There, the phrase “liable to suffer death or life imprisonment” was not delivered alone, but as part of a schedule of penalties based on the gravity of the offense. A reasonable explanation of the Court’s decision is that “liable” indicates “exposure” to a maximum penalty in Sri Lanka, even though the legislature can provide context for determining the minimum when a range of exposure is denoted by a statute. [16] It is unclear how this conflicting jurisprudence would apply to interpretation of the Army Act and Air Force Act, which provide for some offenses that the offender “shall be liable to suffer death.” [17]

Where can one locate or access judicial decisions regarding the death penalty?

Decisions of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court through 2005 are available at http://www.worldlii.org/lk/. Researchers also might consult the government’s consolidated site for the publication of laws and cases at http://www.lawnet.lk/index.php. From time to time NYU’s GlobaLex may have updates on additional legal research tools. [18]

What is the clemency process?

According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, before sentencing a convict to death the court must allow the convict to submit reasons he should not be executed. The judge must then submit to the President a report of the case and an evaluation of whether the sentence of death is appropriate. Execution cannot be carried out without the President’s warrant. [19] Additionally, the Constitution provides that the President must forward the report to the Attorney General, who forwards it to the Minister of Justice with his advice, who forwards it to the President with his recommendation. The President may commute the sentence, stay the execution or grant a pardon. [20]

Are jury trials provided for defendants charged with capital offenses?

The law we found provides for jury trials for murder and rape, [21] and relegates some treasonable offenses to a panel of judges, [22] as well as some terrorism offenses (although the Prevention of Terrorism Act does not permit the death penalty on facts that could, before a jury, be death-eligible). [23] The U.S. Department of State reports that “in criminal cases juries try defendants in public,” except for offenses tried under the PTA. [24]

Brief Description of Appellate Process

Offenses liable to serious penalties are tried before the High Court. [25] A notice of appeal must be filed with the Court of Appeal within 14 days of the conviction, sentence or order being appealed. Fees are waived for appeals against the sentence of death. Appeals are on questions of law and mixed fact-law only. The decision may be appealed by the defendant, the prosecutor, or a private party aggrieved by the offense. The Court may order a retrial (for the prosecution or defense), set aside the verdict, or alter the conviction or sentence (but may not increase the sentence). [26] The Supreme Court reportedly hears only appeals involving substantial legal issues. [27]

Offenders tried under the Prevention of Terrorism Act are not tried before the High Court with a jury (and do not face the death penalty), but reportedly have an appeals channel. [28]

References

[1] The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, art. 12(4), Sep. 7, 1978.
[2] The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, art. 23(13), Sep. 7, 1978.
[3] 1978 Constitution without Amendments p. 1/12
[4] The Hindu, Sri Lanka Mulls Reintroducing Death Penalty, http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/003200907261521.htm, Jul. 26, 2009. Note that this source incorrectly states that the last execution, that of Maru Sira, was in 2003. Maru Sira was asphyxiated in a controversial execution in 1975, and was not executed in 2003.
[5] Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009.
[6] U.N.G.A., 63rd Session, 70th Plenary Meeting, pp. 16- 17, U.N. Doc. A/63/PV.70, Dec. 18, 2008.
[7] http://www.colombopage.com/archive_10B/Oct31_1288510376JR.php, 10/31/2010 (1/14/11)
[8] U.N.G.A., 63rd Session, 70th Plenary Meeting, pp. 16- 17, U.N. Doc. A/63/PV.70, Dec. 18, 2008; Asian Tribune, Sri Lanka Urges Sudan to Consider Ratifying Convention Against Torture and Moratorium on the Execution of the Death Penalty, http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/09/21/sri-lanka-urges-sudan-to-consider-ratifying-convention-against-torture-and-moratorium-e, Sep. 21, 2010. Note that Sri Lanka’s opposition to Sudan’s application of the death penalty does not necessarily derive from any commitment not to carry it out in Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka’s vote for a global moratorium on executions is significant.
[9] See, for example, BBC News, Sri Lanka Revives the Death Penalty, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/296124.stm, Mar. 13, 1999; Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009. The latter article suggests that the Minister of Justice could control whether an individual is executed, but neither the former article nor the law comport with that. Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka of 1978, art. 34, as amended through 2000.
[10] The Hindu, Sri Lanka Mulls Reintroducing Death Penalty, http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/003200907261521.htm, Jul. 26, 2009. Note that this source incorrectly states that the last execution, that of Maru Sira, was in 2003. Maru Sira was asphyxiated in a controversial execution in 1975, and was not executed in 2003.
[11] Amnesty Intl., Death Penalty: Countries Abolitionist in Practice, http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/countries-abolitionist-in-practice, accessed Nov. 29, 2010.
[12] Wije Dias, Sri Lankan President Moves to Reinstate Death Penalty, World Socialist Web Site, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/nov2004/sri-n26.shtml, Nov. 26, 2004.
[13] ColumboPage, Sri Lankans Want Death Penalty Reinstated, http://www.colombopage.com/archive_11/Feb24_1298558630KA.php, Feb. 24, 2011.
[14] Weerawardane v. State , Appeal No. 52 of 1998, Court of Appeal, Oct. 21, 1999.
[15] King v. Banda, Court of Criminal Appeal of Sri Lanka, Nov. 19, 1942.
[16] Banda v. Attorney General, Appeal No. 83 of 1993, Court of Appeal, Sep. 12, 1997 (discussing King v. Banda); Ekanayake v. Attorney General, Appeal No. 132 of 1984, Court of Appeal, Aug. 7, 1986 (affirmed by Ekanayake v. Attorney General, Appeal No. 68 of 1986, Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Jan. 14, 1988. It should be noted that in this latter case, the Court was considering Ekanayake’s sentence delivered under an ex post facto law. For discussion, see David Averbuck, The Sepala Ekanayake Case—Domestic Sri Lankan Law Incorporates International Law, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law. Vol. 1, p. 1, 1989. According to the article, the Supreme Court relied on customary international law to uphold the conviction. A reading of the case leaves one wondering whether the Court genuinely considered any issue before it, or simply accepted an ultimately light sentence (2 years) for a person convicted under an ex-post facto law for a highly publicized, deranged act.
[17] Thiruchelvam v. Attorney General, Appeal No. 144 of 1994, Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Mar. 6, 1995.
[18] Sri Lanka Air Force Act of 1949, art. 131(1-2), amended by Act No. 9 of 1993; Sri Lanka Army Act of 1949, art. 131(1-2),amended by Act No. 10 of 1993. An additional wrinkle is that the Navy Act provides the mandatory death penalty for the same offenses. Sri Lanka Navy Act, art. 118(1-2), amended by Act No. 53 of 1993.
[19] Aquinas V. Tambimuttu, Sri Lanka: Legal Research and Legal System, GlobaLex, http://www.nyulawglobal.org/Globalex/Sri_Lanka.htm, Jan. 2009.
[20] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, arts. 280, 286, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.
[21] Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka of 1978, art. 34, as amended through 2000.
[22] Sri Lanka Criminal Procedure Code of 1979, art. 161, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006; Sri Lanka Judicature Act of 1978, art. 11 & Second Schedule, amended by Act No. 27 of 1999; Sri Lanka Penal Code, arts. 296, 297, 364, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[23] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, art. 450, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006; Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, art. 114, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[24] Sri Lanka Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979, amended by Act No. 22 of 1988. For death eligible offenses, see the Sri Lanka Penal Code or Schedule III of the Sri Lanka Firearms Ordinance.
[25] U.S. Dept. of State, 2009 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/sca/136093.htm, Mar. 11, 2010.
[26] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, arts. 13-14, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006.
[27] Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, arts. 331, 334, amended by Act No. 7 of 2007; Sri Lanka Judicature Act of 1978, arts. 14-16, amended by Act No. 27 of 1999.
[28] Aquinas V. Tambimuttu, Sri Lanka: Legal Research and Legal System, GlobaLex, http://www.nyulawglobal.org/Globalex/Sri_Lanka.htm, Jan. 2009.
[29] U.S. Dept. of State, 2009 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/sca/136093.htm, Mar. 11, 2010.

Death Penalty In Practice

Where Are Death-Sentenced Prisoners incarcerated?

Bogambara and Welikada Prison – Death row might be in these two locations, where functional gallows for executions exist. [1]

Description of Prison Conditions

We found no reports documenting conditions on death row specifically. Sri Lanka may not consider death-sentenced prisoners to be held on death row until their appeals are exhausted. [2] Regarding prison conditions in general, they are overcrowded, unhygienic, lack recreational activities, doctors, and privacy. [3] Most were built by the British over a century ago. At the Bogambara prison, about 5-6 prisoners occupy each cell. With insufficient space, each prisoner lies down one by one without mattresses, blanket, or pillow or huddled. The prisons must take all prisoners sent by the court regardless of capacity. [4] Some juveniles were kept with adults, and some pretrial detainees with those convicted. Access to natural light is limited and ventilation is insufficient. [5]

Are there any known foreign nationals currently under sentence of death?

Mark Warren’s resource does not mention any foreign nationals currently under sentence of death in Sri Lanka. [6]

What are the nationalities of the known foreign nationals on death row?

Mark Warren’s resource does not mention any foreign nationals currently under sentence of death in Sri Lanka. [7]

Are there any known women currently under sentence of death?

One woman is reported on death row. Eleven other women were sentenced to death as of 2009 but are in the process of appealing, so their convictions and sentences were not final in 2009. [8]

Are there any reports of individuals currently under sentence of death who may have been under the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed?

During our research, we did not find reports that individuals are held under sentence of death for crimes committed as juveniles, and Sri Lanka prohibits the practice. [9]

Comments regarding the racial/ethnic composition on death row

We found no reports regarding the racial or ethnic composition of death row. It should be noted, however, that the government has been accused of human rights abuses against Tamils. For instance, on July 2, Kimbula Ela, a mostly Tamil neighborhood in Colombo, was sealed off and searched by army, police, and Special Task Force units. [10] Numerous reports indicate that the government engages in arbitrary arrest or unlawful killings. For instance, Hill Tamils specifically are mentioned in the U.S. Department of State 2008 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka as vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and detention. [11]

Are there lawyers available for indigent defendants facing capital trials?

Individuals in Sri Lanka are legally guaranteed the right to counsel. [12] The U.S. Department of State reports that indigent individuals facing serious charges are provided with counsel, but does not describe the nature or quality of the counsel received. [13] In 2003, a journal article published in the Sri Lanka Journal of International Law suggested that the legal aid available to indigent defendants (including those facing capital charges) was delivered by inexperienced and sometimes incompetent counsel. [14] We do not know whether the situation has changed since 2003.

There are some organizations that provide legal service but coverage is not equal geographically. For instance Colombo receives most coverage whereas areas like Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu have no service providers operating there. [15]

Are there lawyers available for indigent prisoners on appeal?

Individuals in Sri Lanka are legally guaranteed the right to counsel. [16] The U.S. Department of State reports that indigent individuals facing serious charges are provided with counsel on appeal, but does not describe the nature or quality of the counsel received. [17] In 2003, a journal article published in the Sri Lanka Journal of International Law confirmed that counsel is available on appeal, but suggested that the legal aid available to indigent defendants (including those facing capital charges) was delivered by inexperienced and sometimes incompetent counsel. [18] We do not know whether the situation has changed since 2003.

There are some organizations that provide legal service but coverage is not equal geographically. For instance Colombo receives most coverage whereas areas like Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu have no service providers operating there. [19]

Comments on Quality of Legal Representation

In 2003, a journal article published in the Sri Lanka Journal of International Law suggested that “[t]he free legal aid scheme to poor persons in Sri Lanka is gravely circumscribed.” “Assigned counsel are poorly paid, hence only the junior and inexperienced lawyers appear for them, the result being under-representation.” The article cites an unreported Sri Lankan Court of Appeal case in which the Court considered a case of under-representation for a defendant facing murder charges. The Court observed: “In the circumstances, it would appear that accused appellant, was virtually unrepresented and undefended, therefore doubt arises as to whether the accused appellant in fact had a fair trial.” The author observes that this is not an isolated incident, and states that “[t]he reality in Sri Lanka is that it falls far short of the expected objective of the law under international fair trial norms.” [20] We do not know whether the situation has changed since 2003.

There are some organizations that provide legal service but coverage is not equal geographically. For instance Colombo receives most coverage whereas areas like Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu have no service providers operating there. [21]

One news source reported that the government sometimes denies legal representation to minority groups such as Tamils. [22] We have not been able to confirm this allegation.

It also seems that suspects are sometimes kept in custody for long periods as a result of the legal system’s inefficiency. For instance, one suspect was kept in custody for 10 years before being taken to court once. [23] Lengthy delays prior to trial undermine the defendant’s right to a fair trial and the protection against arbitrary detention.

Even though, by law, court proceedings and other legislation should be available in English, Sinhala, and Tamil, in reality, most court proceedings outside of Jaffna or in the northern parts of the country are conducted in English or Sinhala. Consequently, Tamil-speaking defendants do not all receive fair hearings. [24]

Other Comments on Criminal Justice System

The Ministry of Justice does not respect the independence of attorneys. In July 2009, the MOJ’s official website described attorneys for newspaper editors suing the Secretary of Defense as “traitors.” Lawyers defending human rights are “sometimes under physical and verbal threats.” Police made death threats against one prominent human rights attorney, whose house was later burned down. In 2008, individuals carried out a grenade attack on the home of a human rights attorney. [25]

“[S]ince 2005, the government has failed to appoint the Constitutional Council, whose function it is to assure the independence of constitutional bodies…” In 2009, the judiciary’s lower levels remained reliant on the executive. [26]

It also seems that suspects are sometimes kept in custody for long periods as a result of the legal system’s inefficiency. For instance, one suspect was kept in custody for 10 years before being taken to court once. [27] Lengthy delays prior to trial undermine the defendant’s right to a fair trial and the protection against arbitrary detention.

Confessions obtained by torture are inadmissible in criminal courts by law. However, defendants must prove that confessions were obtained by torture. These same defendants may spend up to 18 months in prison on administrative order before their cases are heard. Moreover, human rights organizations maintain that obtaining evidence of torture is difficult due to limited people and resources as well as additional corruption, such as threatening doctors responsible for collecting evidence. [28]

Torture is less common when individuals are accused of ordinary offenses, but is widespread for individuals who are being investigated for political offenses. Our initial review of human rights reports by U.N. special rapporteurs corroborated these and other observations. [29]

References

[1] Newsfirst.lk, Both Gallows in Working Order-Suhada Gamlath, http://www.newsfirst.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4471&Itemid=176, Aug. 29, 2009; The Island Online, Edither G. Perera, Superintendant of Prisons, Ret., Capital Punishment-Gallows, http://www.island.lk/2009/09/19/satmag7.html, last accessed Mar. 8, 2011; H.G. Dharmadasa, I Watched Them Being Hanged, http://sundaytimes.lk/010107/plus5.html, Jan. 7, 2001.
[2] Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009.
[3] ‘Lectric Law Library, Criminal Justice System of Sri Lanka, http://www.lectlaw.com/files/int20.htm, last accessed Mar. 8, 2011.
[4] Park Mihye, Intern, Human Rights Office, Sri Lanka’s Prison Conditions, Ethics In Action, Vol. 2, No. 4, http://www.ethicsinaction.asia/archive/2008-ethics-in-action/vol.-2-no.-4-august-2008/sri-lanka2019s-prison-conditions, Aug. 2008.
[5] U.S. Dept. of State, 2008 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/sca/119140.htm, Feb. 25, 2009.
[6] Mark Warren, Foreigners Under Sentence of Death Worldwide, http://users.xplornet.com/~mwarren/world.html, last updated May 7, 2010.
[7] Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009.
[8] Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009.
[9] Sri Lanka Penal Code of 1885, arts. 294-296, amended by Act No. 16 of 2006.
[10] U.S. Dept. of State, 2008 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/sca/119140.htm, Feb. 25, 2009.
[11] U.S. Dept. of State, 2008 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/sca/119140.htm, Feb. 25, 2009.
[12] Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka, art. 13(3), amended through 2000; Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, arts. 195(g), 260, 272, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006; Sri Lanka Judicature Act of 1978, art. 41, amended by Act No. 27 of 1999; Legal Aid Act No. 27 of 1978. For interpretation of Article 195(g) of the 1979 Act, as well as discussion of the procedural protections in utilizing attorneys and the extension of free legal aid to indigents, see Noel Dias, Legal Assistance and Aid: International Standards Applicable in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law, Vol. 15, p. 77, 2003.
[13] U.S. Dept. of State, 2009 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/sca/136093.htm, Mar. 11, 2010.
[14] Noel Dias, Legal Assistance and Aid: International Standards Applicable in Sri Lanka, p. 90-91, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law, Vol. 15, p. 77, 2003.
[15] Legal Aid Policy Brief ‘The Legal Aid Sector in Sri Lanka Searching for Sustainable Solutions A Mapping of Legal Aid Services in Sri Lanka Policy Brief’ UNHCR, The Asia Foundation, UNDP Equal Access to Justice Project, Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, Ministry of Justice and Law Reform, 2009.
[16] Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka, art. 13(3), amended through 2000; Sri Lanka Code of Criminal Procedure of 1979, arts. 195(g), 260, 272, amended by Act No. 7 of 2006; Sri Lanka Judicature Act of 1978, art. 41, amended by Act No. 27 of 1999; Legal Aid Act No. 27 of 1978. For interpretation of Article 195(g) of the 1979 Act, as well as discussion of the procedural protections in utilizing attorneys and the extension of free legal aid to indigents, see Noel Dias, Legal Assistance and Aid: International Standards Applicable in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law, Vol. 15, p. 77, 2003.
[17] U.S. Dept. of State, 2009 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/sca/136093.htm, Mar. 11, 2010.
[18] Noel Dias, Legal Assistance and Aid: International Standards Applicable in Sri Lanka, p. 90-91, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law, Vol. 15, p. 77, 2003.
[19] Legal Aid Policy Brief ‘The Legal Aid Sector in Sri Lanka Searching for Sustainable Solutions A Mapping of Legal Aid Services in Sri Lanka Policy Brief’ UNHCR, The Asia Foundation, UNDP Equal Access to Justice Project, Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, Ministry of Justice and Law Reform, 2009.
[20] Noel Dias, Legal Assistance and Aid: International Standards Applicable in Sri Lanka, p. 90-91, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law, Vol. 15, p. 77, 2003.
[21] Legal Aid Policy Brief ‘The Legal Aid Sector in Sri Lanka Searching for Sustainable Solutions A Mapping of Legal Aid Services in Sri Lanka Policy Brief’ UNHCR, The Asia Foundation, UNDP Equal Access to Justice Project, Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, Ministry of Justice and Law Reform, 2009.
[22] Rajasingham Jayadevan, Arrested Tamils Do Not Have Legal Representation, Sri Lanka Guardian, http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/08/arrested-tamils-do-not-have-legal.html, last accessed Mar. 8, 2011.
[23] Sri Lanka Institute of Human Rights, Legal Advice and Representation, http://ihrsrilanka.org/category/legal-advice/, Jun. 15, 2009.
[24] U.S. Dept. of State, 2008 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/sca/119140.htm, Feb. 25, 2009.
[25] U.S. Dept. of State, 2009 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/sca/136093.htm, Mar. 11, 2010.
[26] U.S. Dept. of State, 2009 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/sca/136093.htm, Mar. 11, 2010.
[27] http://ihrsrilanka.org/category/legal-advice/ (11/19/10)
[28] U.S. Dept. of State, 2008 Human Rights Report: Sri Lanka, Denial of Fair Public Trial, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/sca/119140.htm, Mar. 8, 2009.
[29] See Sri Lanka’s homepage with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/LKIndex.aspx.

Decisions of International Human Rights Bodies

Decisions of Human Rights Committee

In a review of communications received by the Human Rights Committee, we did not find any recent petitions related to application of the death penalty. [1] In the Committee’s 2003 Observations pursuant to periodic self-reporting by Sri Lanka, the Committee did not discuss the application of the death penalty. [2]

Decisions of Other Human Rights Bodies

In the Human Rights Council’s 2008 Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Sri Lanka, Mexico and Italy commented on the moratorium on the death penalty and inquired about additional information and steps towards complete abolition. These were not enumerated as recommendations of the Council. [3]

References

[1] Search Sri Lanka’s homepage at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/LKIndex.aspx, last accessed Feb. 26, 2011.
[2] U.N. CCPR, Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Sri Lanka, U.N. Doc. CCPR/CO/79/LKA, Dec. 1, 2003.
[3] U,N.G.A., Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the UPR: Sri Lanka, paras. 39, 56, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/8/46, Jun. 5, 2008.

Additional Sources and Contacts

Direct member(s) of World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

None.

Other non-governmental organizations and individuals engaged in advocacy surrounding the death penalty

None.

Helpful Reports and Publications

Noel Dias, Legal Assistance and Aid: International Standards Applicable in Sri Lanka, p. 90-91, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law, Vol. 15, p. 77, 2003.

David Averbuck, The Sepala Ekanayake Case—Domestic Sri Lankan Law Incorporates International Law, Sri Lanka J. of Intl. Law. Vol. 1, p. 1, 1989.

Among others, we found the ColumboPage online newspaper informative on death penalty issues:http://www.colombopage.com/.

Our best source of information regarding death row demographics was an interview published by the Lanka Journal: Lanka Journal, Death Penalty Under Review-Sri Lanka Prisons Commissioner, http://www.lankajournal.com/2009/08/death-penalty-under-review-sri-lanka-prisons-commissioner/, Aug. 30, 2009.

NYU’s resource was helpful in guiding our legal research: Aquinas V. Tambimuttu, Sri Lanka: Legal Research and Legal System, GlobaLex, http://www.nyulawglobal.org/Globalex/Sri_Lanka.htm, Jan. 2009.

Sri Lanka’s free online database of statutes (and some cases) was instrumental in describing the scope of the law: http://www.lawnet.lk/, as was the World Legal Information Institute: http://www.worldlii.org/lk/.

Additional notes regarding this country

None.

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