EU urges Sri Lanka not to end moratorium on death penalty

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The European Union is urging Sri Lanka not to end its four-decade moratorium on the death penalty, saying capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to counter illicit drugs and related crimes.

Monday’s statement from the EU comes a week after Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena announced that dates have been set for the country’s first executions in 43 years amid rising alarm over drug-related crimes.

Sri Lanka last executed a prisoner in 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners are on death row, including 48 convicted of drug offenses.

Drug trafficking is a capital offense in Sri Lanka, where authorities have intensified a crackdown on narcotics to deter smugglers from using the Indian Ocean island nation as a transit point for distribution in the region.

While acknowledging that combatting the proliferation of drugs is a serious challenge for countries around the world, and that action to counter the illicit drug trade is important and necessary, the EU said “the evidence does not support the argument that the death penalty is an effective deterrent.”

“The death penalty is an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity,” the EU said.

Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist, a religion that advocates nonviolence. Sirisena has said that the country has had positive influences from all religions, but that tough law enforcement is necessary to curb crime and maintain order.

Prison authorities have begun interviews to recruit two hangmen as two people previously recruited quit without executing anyone.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have criticized the move by Sirisena, who has modeled his country’s drug fight after the Philippines.

Sirisena visited the Philippines in January and praised President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug crackdown as “an example to the world.” Thousands of suspects have been killed since Duterte took office in 2016, and rights groups have denounced the killings as extrajudicial executions.

Last week, Sri Lankan police publicly destroyed 770 kilograms (1,695 pounds) of drugs seized in 2016 and 2017.

Police have seized 731 kilograms (1,608 pounds) of heroin, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine and 1,607 kilograms (3,535 pounds) of marijuana so far this year.

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in Sri Lanka, followed by heroin and cocaine. Drug-related arrests rose 2 percent in 2017 from the previous year to 81,156.

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