By Associated Press - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Amnesty International urged Sri Lanka Wednesday to halt plans to resume executions after more than four decades, saying capital punishment will not end drug-related crimes.

The statement by the rights group came two days after Sri Lanka 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.

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.

Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director of Amnesty International, said there is no perfect criminal justice system and the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated.

“There is no coming back from an execution,” Patnaik said.

Amnesty International says legislative amendments in Iran have resulted in a significant decrease in executions of people convicted of drug-related offences.

It said trials in Sri Lanka of those facing possible execution could fail to meet fair international standards, due to torture and forced confessions being routinely practiced in the criminal justice system, as noted by the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and United Nations officials.

“The death penalty is also a punishment that disproportionately affects people from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds,” Patnaikhe said.

Sri Lanka last executed a prisoner in 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners are on death row, including 48 convicted of drug offenses. Prison authorities have advertised to recruit two hangmen.

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

Sirisena’s move has drawn criticism from Great Britain and the European Union.

On Monday, 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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