France Sri Lanka Cultural Exchanges - Suriyakantha

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Le site bilingue consacré à la vie culturelle au Sri Lanka et en France

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Fascination of the body

Paul Cézanne

In the Light of Gauguin


Jean de La Fontaine

Malraux / Segalen


Pigeon houses in Quercy






Mental Health



Miniatures of Kangra, India


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Asma Jahangir

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions,
Ms Jahangir was in Sri Lanka to deliver this years
Neelan Tiruchelvam Commemoration Lecture.
It was delivered by her at the BMICH on January 30 under the title,

"Death Penalty as Extrajudicial Killing".

Ms. Jahangir's visit was organised by
the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo.

  • Western European countries enjoying the least crime rates in the world have not provided for capital punishment or the death penalty.
    So far there have been no studies to link the crime rate of a country to the death penalty.

  • The death penalty is a violation of the right to life - a most fundamental of human rights.

  • The possibility of making mistakes in the execution of this punishment exists.

  • The irreversibility of death is one cogent reason why capital punishment should be approached with the utmost caution.

  • There is a pronounced tendency for capital punishment to discriminate against those who are already disadvantaged.
    It could be noticed that those in Death Row usually come from disadvantaged groups such as religious and racial minorities.

  • Jahangir explained that the certainty of punishment alone brings down crime.
    If we are seeking to strengthen fundamental rights and the Rule of Law, we must end the impunity to punishment enjoyed by some social classes. For instance, the armed forces and the influential sections of society.

    Excerpts from the article
    "Containing crime and violence in South Asia"
    by Lynn Ockersz
    Thursday 08, February 2001, Daily News, Colombo.

    Robert Badinter

      The vocation of abolition is to be universal.

      By Robert Badinter

      Senator and editorialist of Nouvel Observateur.
      Author of "L'Abolition", Fayard, 2000.

      The Prize of the Political Book 2001 (Prix du Livre politique 2001) has been awarded to Robert Badinter for "L'Abolition".

    The poisons that are carried by death penalty are at work by distressing the justice in USA like everywhere and always.

    Social Inequality

    That are the most defavoured groups in society, the children of Black or Hispanic ghettos, who make almost the totality of the condemned men. Most of this accused are unable to afford the expenses needed for their defense in front of the considerable means of the accusation. They are only assisted by the court-appointed lawyers who are not well paid and often unexperimented.

    The statistics speak clearly : according to a recent survey of the University of Colombia,

    on 5700 death condemnations which have been pronounced from 1977 to 1995,

    4578 have been cancelled as a result of different mistakes in proceedings : violations of the law, serious breach of duties among the advocates and the worst is the concealment of proves or witnesses for defense. These terrible grieves led to many judicial errors :

    87 condemned to death have been released after having been recognized innocent.


    When Afro-Americans represent 12% of the population in USA, they compose 34% of the executions. In Texas, 34% of the condemned to death have been accused for murdering white women.

    Conversely, 0.4% of the condemnations to death have been pronounced for murdering a Black.


    The USA hold the record of the executions of the condemned, who were under 18 at the time of their crimes, disregarding the international conventions that ban these executions.

    And what to say about the executions of the retarded persons, more particularly in Texas!



    Death Penalty and Religion


    "The condemnation to death of a human person means the negation of his improvement capacity. By using this punishment, a Christian expresses doubts about the power of the grace, the universality of Redemption, and the possibility of the conversion.
    Even at the term of a regular judgement, the society cannot have man's life in one's hands under the pretence of his culpability.

    The right to live is absolute and death penalty is one of the manifestations of the contempt for human life."

    Social Commission of the French Episcopate, January 23th 1978.


    Letter to The Island (Sri Lanka),
    Monday 4th December 2000.

    Death penalty : A bad noose

    by Rev. Dalston Forbes OMI
    Colombo 15

    There is a proposal before parliament to restore the death penalty owing to the upsurge in grave crimes like armed robbery, murder and multiple murders, rape with murder, political assassinations etc. For several years now, the death sentence, though passed by the Judges in terms of the Law, is not implemented and is reduced to life imprisonment.

    Many organisations like Amnesty International have spoken against carrying out the death sentence. Pope John Paul II has come out against it on several occasions. Thus to quote the Encyclical on Human Life, 'Evangelisum Vitae' No. 56; "This is the context in which to place the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and Civil Society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity...."

    He goes on to refer the expiatory and deterrent quality of punishment and then adds:

    "It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon and ought not to go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity; in other words when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organisation of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent".

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the same thing in No. 2267.

    This being the case, it would be most unwise and retrogressive to implement the death sentence once again. Let other means be found to rid society of grave crimes.

    Donavan Moldrich, late editor of the 'Times of Ceylon' and well known journalist wrote well on this subject in his book:

    "Hangman, spare that noose", Committee for Abolition of Death Penalty", Colombo, 1983.

    I commend this book to your readers.

    Tibetan Buddhism

    August 29, 1999

    Message Supporting a Global Moratorium on the Death Penalty


    Bodhisattva Siddhartha,
    gold coloured bronze, end of 18th century, Musée Guimet.

      by the Dalai Lama

      In general, death is something none of us wants, in fact it is something we don't even like to think about. When death takes place naturally, it is a process beyond our control to stop, but where death is willfully and deliberately brought about, it is very unfortunate.

      Of course, within our legal systems there are said to be certain reasons and purposes for employing the death penalty. It is used to punish offenders, to prevent them ever repeating their misdeed and to deter others. However, if we examine the situation more carefully, we will find that these are not the real solutions.

      Harmful actions and their tragic consequences all have their origin in disturbing emotions and negative thoughts, and these are a state of mind, whose potential we find within all human beings. From this point of view, every one of us has the potential to commit crimes, because we are all subject to negative disturbing emotions and negative mental qualities. And we will not overcome these by executing other people.

    What is deemed criminal can vary greatly from country to country. In some countries, for example, speaking out for human rights is considered criminal, whereas in other countries preventing free speech is a crime. The punishments for crimes are also very different, but usually include various forms of imprisonment or hardship, financial penalties and, in a number of countries, physical pain. In some countries, crimes that the government considers very serious are punished by executing the person who committed the crime.

    The death penalty fulfills a preventive function, but it is also very clearly a form of revenge. It is an especially severe form of punishment because it is so final. The human life is ended and the executed person is deprived of the opportunity to change, to restore the harm done or compensate for it.

    Before advocating execution we should consider whether criminals are intrinsically negative and harmful people or whether they will remain perpetually in the same state of mind in which they committed their crime or not. The answer, I believe, is definitely not.

    However horrible the act they have committed, I believe that everyone has the potential to improve and correct themselves. Therefore, I am optimistic that it remains possible to deter criminal activity, and prevent such harmful consequences of such acts in society, without having to resort to the death penalty.

    My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to improve and that by its very finality the death penalty contradicts this.

    Therefore, I support those organizations and individuals who are trying to bring an end to the use of the death penalty.

    Today, in many societies very little importance is placed on education or the development of human values through social programs and entertainment. In fact, if we take television programming as an example, violence, including killing, is regarded as having a high entertainment value. This is indicative of how misguided we have become.

    I believe human beings are not violent by nature. Unlike lions and tigers, we are not naturally equipped to kill with sharp teeth and claws.

    From a Buddhist viewpoint, I believe that the basic nature of every sentient being is pure, that the deeper nature of mind is something pure. Human beings become violent because of negative thoughts which arise as a result of their environment and circumstances.

    I wholeheartedly support an appeal to those countries who at present employ the death penalty to observe an unconditional moratorium. At the same time we should give more support to education and encourage a greater sense of universal responsibility. We need to explain the importance of the practice of love and compassion for our own survival and to try to minimize those conditions which foster murderous tendencies, such as the proliferation of weapons in our societies. These are things even private individuals can work towards.

    Emphasis by the editor.


    Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

      "I vote for the pure, simple and definitive abolition of death penalty..."
      " is, for me, a deep and old conviction"

          15th September 1848
          Assemblée Constituante, Paris.

      In fact, the first movement has been an instinctive reaction of horror, anxiety and disgust. Sensation led to conviction, and conviction to the involvement in favour of he Abolition.

    Listen to the relation of Adele, Victor Hugo's wife, in her biography titled :

    "Victor Hugo raconté par un témoin de sa vie"
    (Victor Hugo related by a witness of his life).

    The scene occurs in 1812 in Burgos, Spain. The young Victor, ten years old, is on the way to join his father who is a General of the Napoléon's army.

    "A big crowd passed in front of the house. Victor, with his mother and brother, followed the crowd. They arrived to a square and saw a wood stage that was surmounted by a pal. They asked : "What is this?" and the answer was : "a scaffold on which a man will be garrotted". They were scared by this idea and run as fast as their legs could carry them. They met a brotherhood of penitents wearing cowls with two holes in the place of their eyes. This glances without visage looked gloomily for the children. Among these "ghosts", there was a man bound on a donkey. His back was turned towards the head of the animal. This man was stupefied by terror. Some priests presented him a crucifix, and he kissed it without looking at.

    Children ran away being terrified."



    Francisco Goya (1746-1828)

    "Man's brutality to man was nevermore vividly indected than in the tamplit scene of "3 May 1808" where the French shoot hostages, painted six years later with no loss of actual horror."

    From Giotto to Cézanne, Michael Levey, Thames and Hudson, 1997.

    3rd May 1808
    (Los fusilamientos en la montana del Principe Pio),
    Madrid, Prado (1814).


    Robert BADINTER

    Albert CAMUS / Alfred KOESTLER

    Victor HUGO


    Jean IMBERT


    L'Abolition, Fayard, 2000.

    Réflexions sur la peine capitale, Calmann-Lévy, 1979.

    Le dernier jour d'un condamné, Bibliothèque Gallimard, 2000
    The last day of a condemned man and other prison writings, translated by Woollen Geoff, Oxford University Press.
    Ecrits sur la peine de mort, Babel, Actes Sud, 1992.

    La peine de mort, QSJ, PUF.

     A translation in Sinhala :



    An Execution by an Elephant, An Historical Relation Of the Island Ceylon, Robert Knox, London, 1681.

  • No to death penalty : National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

    "The human race now call themselves 'civilised' as they have got rid of inhuman methods as such as capital punishment. If we are going back to it, that means we are going against the civilisation."
    Nimal Punchihewa

  • Sri Lanka: Amnesty International concerned at reactivation of death penalty

    Amnesty International is gravely concerned at the recent announcement that the death penalty will be reactivated in Sri Lanka.

  • Sri Lanka Churches Disapprove Restored Death Penalty

    Chairperson of the National Christian Council Anglican Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe said the government had acted hastily. "Churches stand for the affirmation of life," he said. Punishment handed down by courts should be "punitive and corrective rather than destructive".

    A new debate on reimplementation of Death Penalty, 2003.

    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind ;
    and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls,
    it tolls for thee.

    John Donne


    Minister John Amaratunga recently visited the gallows at the Welikada prison to inspect the conditions there.
    The last man to be hanged there was from Tissamaharama in 1976.
    The noose had deteriorated and the rope used had to be imported as it was a type that was unavailable in Sri Lanka.
    The gallows that have not been used for 26 years, need a new look and the minister has suggested that the necessary repairs be carried out until a decision on the death penalty is taken.


    See article in
    Sunday Observer, 23 February 2003 :
    "To hang or not to hang...?
    by Karel Roberts Ratnaweera and Jayampathy Jayasinghe.


  • Death penalty may violate international conventions (The Human Rights Commission)
    With Sri Lanka being a party to the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights and also a signatory to the UN Charter, the death penalty may be in violation of some of the provisions. "Sri Lanka is currently being recognized as an exemplary state with regard to the ratification of international instruments of human rights. The re-implementation of the death penalty will be a major step backwards"

    Sunday Times, 25 May 2003.

  • Top intellects oppose death penalty
    More than 50 eminent academicians, lawyers, human rights activists and professionals have signed a petition opposing the re-introduction of judicial executions, pointing out that the death penalty is not the answer to controlling crime.

    Sunday Observer, 16 March 2003.

  • (...) It is misleading the public to make them think that a return to the death penalty by itself will bring down the rate of crime (...)
    The Minister of the Interior has reportedly called for a public debate on the death penalty (...) Let us instead have a serious national debate about crime prevention.

    Nayana, The Sunday Island, 16th February 2003.

    Read more about death penalty.