Picture courtesy Vice News

Violent crimes, rape and murder seem to be on the increase. Public outrage is understandable. But the demand – “Impose the death penalty with immediate effect” is equally outrageous. 

It is ironic that in a country that boasts of 2000 years of Buddhism, Buddhist monks no less come forward to advise the President to re introduce capital punishment.  Minister John Seneviratne is reported to have said it is vital to re-impose the death penalty. He even boasts that as a former Minister of Justice (2004-2006) he had not only enthusiastically supported the proposal to re-impose the death penalty but gleefully imported two new ropes to have the sadistic pleasure of hanging the criminals. His disappointment must have been great indeed when the proposal was not approved.

He goes on to say, “Those found guilty of murder of specially children should be sent to the gallows.  Such criminals have no right to live after committing such crimes.  They are a social cancer and a stigma. If our society is to be cleansed, these criminals must be eliminated. Not maintained through public funds”.

But getting school children addicted to narcotic drugs is as bad as “murdering them”. How many of the Minister’s colleagues are involved in importing or selling drugs to children and are being maintained through public funds in our Parliament?  He should give this a thought before making such pronouncements. Such is the caliber of most of our Parliamentarians. And the President wants them to make a decision on this all important matter of life and death! It is the President who should think seriously and arrive at a rational solution to the problem of crime and violence in our society, and not his corrupt Ministers and MPs.

The compassionate Buddha wanted all living beings to be well and happy. He never ever promoted war or any kind of violence – never death as a penalty. When rulers complained to him about increasing crime and violence within their states, the solution he recommended was eradication of poverty and equal distribution of wealth. In today’s context he might have added a ban on narcotic drugs. Wouldn’t he be “horrified “at the way his teachings are being distorted and practiced today in the very country of his choice, expected to protect and promote his “Dhamma”.

The dangers of imposing the death penalty are many. Obviously the rich and the powerful, even if proved guilty beyond any doubt, will not be sent to the gallows. Powerful politicians will always protect them. The more serious one is that a “guilty” person could be first hanged and later found to be innocent. 

In the present situation in Sri Lanka that is very likely to happen. We saw how the crowds reacted to the rape and murder of a 5 year old girl.  They were naturally outraged at that brutal murder and in a raging fury demanded instant death for the culprit. The police had to somehow produce “a culprit” quickly to appease the crowd and save themselves from those crying for vengeance. In their desperation police could have even produced the victim’s parents as the killers, and this very nearly happened. If capital punishment is re-imposed many an innocent man could be hanged since our judicial mechanisms are not perfect by any means, and we even had a Chief Justice who admitted to giving wrong judgments.  The public demand for the death penalty is an emotional response; it is not a rational solution to the problem. A hasty decision should not be taken merely to please the crowds.