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Sri Lanka’s death penalty may disproportionately affect Tamils - Amnesty International

Sri Lanka’s decision to reinstate the death penalty may disproportionately impact on Tamil speaking people on the island, said Amnesty International in a briefing released earlier today.

Amnesty International found that “people who are from less advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, or belonging to racial, ethnic or religious minorities, are disproportionately vulnerable to being sentenced to death”.

With regards to Sri Lanka, the briefing highlighted a 2017 report by Mónica Pinto, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, which highlighted “issues of language competency in the courts, which discriminates against Tamil-speaking people”. 

“With the majority of court proceedings even in the north and east of the country conducted in Sinhala, combined with judicial, legal and police officers who have no Tamil language skills, those who do not speak Sinhala may be denied the right to a fair trial,” Amnesty added. “This also raises concerns as to the representativeness of the bench and the bar in terms of racial, ethnic and religious minorities in the country.”

Amnesty also quoted Sri Lanka’s own National Human Rights Commission which said in 2016 “there is a shortage of Tamil interpreters in the justice system as well as at police stations, which can adversely impact upon the due process and fair trial rights of detainees”.

“There is no coming back from an execution. There is no criminal justice system that is perfect. The risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated, and the injustice that ensues can never be redeemed,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International.

“No criminal justice system is capable of deciding fairly who should live or who should die. Sri Lanka has not implemented this ultimate cruel, degrading and inhumane punishment for more than four decades. It should continue to honour a tradition that chooses life instead of vengeance,” said Biraj Patnaik.

See more from Amnesty International here.