Colombo—Sri Lanka announced Wednesday it would start hanging drug criminals, ending a near-half century moratorium on capital punishment as officials promised to “replicate the success” of the Philippine drug war.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs since coming to power in 2016 has left thousands of people dead and prompted allegations of crimes against humanity.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena told the cabinet he “was ready to sign the death warrants” of repeat drug offenders and deploy the military to tackle drug crime, a government spokesman said Wednesday.
“From now on, we will hang drug offenders without commuting their death sentences,” Rajitha Senaratne said.
“We were told that the Philippines has been successful in deploying the army and dealing with this problem. We will try to replicate their success,” he said.
Sri Lanka has commuted death sentences for serious crimes to life in prison since 1976 when the last execution took place.
Senaratne said there were 19 drug offenders whose death sentences had been commuted to life. It was not clear if they would be hanged under the government’s policy shift.
Amnesty International responded swiftly urging Colombo not to press ahead.
“Sri Lanka must pull back from any plans to implement the death penalty and preserve its longstanding positive record on shunning this cruel and irreversible punishment,” the London-based rights group said in a statement.
But Sri Lankan authorities say a tougher approach is needed to combat what they say is an increase in drug-related crime.
Senaratne cited a case this week where a convicted drug dealer, whose death sentence was commuted to life, had arranged the import of 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of heroin from behind bars.
The government has not spelt out how it will deploy troops, but in the past, they have been used to reinforce local police in riot control.
Duterte ran on a law-and-order platform that included promises to kill thousands of people involved in the drug trade, including officials.
Authorities have acknowledged killing more than 4,200 drug suspects who resisted arrest. But rights groups say the actual number of dead is at least triple that.