President Maithripala Sirisena has ‘corrected’ his Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s statement made to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regarding the Sri Lankan Government’s stance on the death penalty.

Speaking at an official function in Galle on Friday (September 18), the President pledged to implement the death penalty from next year provided he obtained Parliamentary approval. President Sirisena cited the rape and murder of a five-year-old girl in Kotadeniyawa as the most recent example of a series of violent crimes and noted it had reignited calls within society to re-implement capital punishment.

While Sri Lanka has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1977, it has not been abolished by law. As such, the death penalty can be re-implemented if the President signed the order. Addressing the gathering, President Sirisena went onto state that while he could in fact, implement the death penalty using his executive powers, he would prefer to obtain Parliamentary approval before doing so.

However, President Sirisena’s pronouncement contradicted the statement made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera to the UNHRC in Geneva only four days before. In his address to the 30th Session of the UNHRC last Monday (September 14), Minister Samaraweera claimed that the Government of Sri Lanka was committed to maintaining the moratorium on the death penalty ‘with a view to its ultimate abolition.’ This was generally accepted as being the government’s official position.

Speaking with editors of newspapers and heads of media institutions on Friday evening, where Minister Samaraweera was also present, the President had stated that any move at lifting the moratorium on the death penalty would be subject to Parliamentary approval. However, he had again noted the growing calls for the re-implementation of capital punishment and stressed he was seriously considering the matter.

In July, the Department of Prisons also advertised to fill the two vacant posts of hangmen. In late August, the department stated it had received 13 applications in response. At the time, the Prisons Department said it expected to fill the two vacant posts by the beginning of November.