Amidst continuing controversy over the proposed implementation of capital punishment to curb the narcotic trade, the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has said that the resumption of judicial execution should be the last option, if at all.
The Sri Lankan Church Leader said that the Holy Father Pope Francis has not accepted the death penalty which is also his own position invariably.
The following is the full text of the statement:
My attention has been drawn to reports and comments appearing in the print and social media concerning an interview I have given on the decision by His Excellency the President and the Cabinet, to introduce a limited application of the death penalty to certain types of prisoners, whose activities are detrimental to national security, safety and the concerns of the future generations.
Unfortunately, especially in the English language media, the interview given in the Sinhala language and which appeared in the Lankadeepa newspaper of 13th July 2018 has not been correctly studied and presented and thus the public seems to have thought that I am in favour of the death penalty in general.
What I stated on this matter if it is translated in English is as follows: “It has been reported in the Newspaper media that some of the prisoners condemned to death and presently residing in the prisons are organizing activities of criminality from the prisons”. Then I said “we should condemn this kind of action as unacceptable. Here, there seems to be two questions that emerge. The first one concerns the whole complex of the prisons, the ministry and the officials in charge of the prisons. If all these institutions are fulfilling their responsibilities well, how could such activities originate from the prisons?
It was reported that once an underworld criminal condemned to the prison and taken there by the guards had been carried on the shoulders of the other prisoners in a kind of welcoming ceremony in the prison. Who is authorizing and giving them permission to do such things? We express our surprise about such activities taking place in the prison. How could such things happen where there are prison officials and those responsible for the administration? I believe, therefore, that an inquiry needs to be held and a proper reform of the prisons be carried out. It is the responsibility of our political leadership.
We always treat with kindness our prisoners on the basis of our culture and this extends also to those condemned to capital punishment in Sri Lanka. Capital punishment, though it exists in the Statute books, is not carried out in our country mainly because of our religious traditions. Our religions teach us that, human life is a precious thing. For this reason, we can never agree to kill someone.
Yet, if there are prisoners who engage in drug importation and distribution or in the perpetration of violence through the underworld causing death to others, one needs to re-consider that practice and implement whatever punishment has been received by them through the Courts of Law. It is a more complex question if all those who have received a death sentence should be executed. There should be a bigger discussion on that matter as such sentences may be flawed.
People in prison who engage in organizing such crimes from the security of the prison, are doing a grave harm to society. They commit a grave sin. Thus there is nothing wrong in carrying out the punishment given to them by the Courts. Not all people fall into that special category. They could be identified on the basis of only credible witnesses and solid facts. That is up to the justice system to do. Perpetrators of such gruesome crimes could be considered as having forfeited their own right to life. Because such activities cause death to other people. His Excellency the President has not expressed the idea of executing all those who are condemned to death.
We support the consideration he has shown towards the upholding of the rule of law. It is a way in which the violent activities of the underworld can be curtailed which the State is obliged to do. It is the misfortune of this country that such harmful activities continue to happen with impunity from the prisons” [Lankadeepa, 13th July 2018, p.14].
From the above it is clear that neither have I advocated a re-introduction of the death penalty carte blanche as people seems to have understood nor have I desired to close my eyes and do nothing before this terrible phenomenon our country is faced with at present which causes death and violence in the streets and the destruction of the cream of our youth who become drug addicts at an age as early as their adolescence being exposed to drugs even in their schools. This is being done by drug cartels operated at times from the prisons. That was the concern and context of my statement.
Hundreds of parents have approached our clergy and expressed their horror at what happened to some of their children. Several cases of suicide by youth consuming drugs have been reported to us. The Archdiocese infact organized two protest marches against drug peddlers in Ragama and in Negombo with thousands of our faithful participating and I have listened to the tearful tales of so many mothers whose families have been rendered destitute by the drug menace. Should we wash hands like Pilate and wait till our children are destroyed.
The Holy Father Pope Francis has in fact not accepted the death penalty which is also my own position invariably. I am not for a generalized return of capital punishment. It should be the last option, if at all.
Infact the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only way of effectively defending human life against the unjust aggressor” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, revised edition, 1997 No. 2267].
Thus, I have acted on this matter with a sense of total awareness of the gravity of this situation, in faithfulness to what my faith teaches me on the matter and in consideration of the tragedy that continues to strike our youth and the nation and my responsibility before God and our people in addressing this serious national issue. May I also refer to what Jesus, the Lord, mentioned with regard to those who cause scandal and mislead our children and youth in order to gain filthy lucre for themselves: “It would be better for you, if a mill stone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble” [Lk. 17:2].
My point is that the State should not bring back the death sentence, but that criminal minds that seek to destroy social peace and harm hundreds of others putting into ridicule law and order and challenging humanity to stop them if possible, should not go unpunished for their criminal behaviour even after being condemned. Our youth are too precious to be sacrificed on the altar of philosophical sophistry and arguments. It would be like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned.”