Death penalty, a deadly blow | Daily News

Death penalty, a deadly blow

Drug lords panicking, statistics show

If there is one thing drug cartels fear the most, it would probably be legalisation or dwindling of meagre supplies. Surprisingly enough, law enforcement authorities told the Daily News that during the last seven days, supplies of narcotics have run short, prices have shot up, supply chains were breaking up, and anything which remained was deftly diluted.

“Widespread detections have got suppliers running for cover,” says SSP T.C.A Dhanapala, Director of the Police Narcotics Bureau. “This has created a scarcity of narcotics in the market. A gram of heroin which could be bought for Rs. 12,000 now costs Rs. 14 000 or more. We have every reason to believe that supply chains are turning up loose ends and whatever is left in the market is diluted.”

SSP Dhanapala says that confiscation of sizeable amounts of the drug is a deadly blow to both cartels and addicts. “When there isn’t enough of heroin in its pure form, it has to be adulterated to cater to demand,” he said. “We’ve found that in some instances purity levels dropped to nearly 40 percent.”

SSP Dhanapala, with other law enforcement officials, says there is a plausible explanation. Between June 26 and July 2 this year, through the setting up of a new range comprising the Special Task Force, Police Narcotics Bureau, Presidential Task Force on Drugs and the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), police executed a massive drug detection campaign across the country.

Within these seven days, 5,010 detections were carried out islandwide and 4,940 arrests were made. The seizures of the drugs included 909 grams of heroin, 1.668 kg of cocaine and 4.44 kg of cannabis.

Interestingly enough last week, President Maithripala Sirisena, in his coup de main,called for the execution of prisoners engaged in drug trafficking from prison. During an event in Polonnaruwa on Saturday, July 14, he stoically defended the order, deafening cries of opposition. His call for the death penalty goes back to 2015 when he stated twice in public his willingness to enforce it if Parliament agreed.

In light of ample global empirical evidence which suggests that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent, Sri Lanka makes an interesting case. SSP Dhanapala saysthat President’s proclamation has had a surprising effect. “Drug dealers and prisoners alike have began panicking. Under the veil of bravery, most drug lords loath death,” he said. “If enacted, this piece of law may have far-reaching effects on the local drug trade, than any we’ve seen so far.”

Commandant of the STF and Senior DIG M.R. Latiff says that organised crime such as drug trafficking is a changing and flexible phenomenon. He says that traditional structures headed by kingpins who control niche crimes are being replaced by loose, flexible networks which shift operations and modify business based on opportunities, profit and demand.

“They are structured like businesses, freely exercising violence and bribery to maintain operations and ward off competition,” he said. He refers to the ‘logic’ of drug violence: when there are fortunes to be made from a commodity which is only available through criminal enterprise, people would resort to any measure to seek fortunes. This includes retribution such as murder, and killings between underworld gangs, as witnessed here during recent months.

“The most effective deterrent to crime is the certainty of detection, which has increased significantly over these months and particularly, in the last few weeks,” he says. “Consumption has not necessarily increased, because the quantity of drugs seized compared to last year remains small.”

Narcotic detections by Sri Lanka Police this year compared to 2015 show a slump in quantity of cannabis, while the quantity of heroin increased in 2017. Massive hauls of cocaine were found in 2016, but marginal in the years before and after.

Senior DIG Latiff faults the current prisons system, adding that regardless of arrests, prisons are an incubator for increased drug usage and trade. “Operational deficiencies include lack of space or segregation, while administratively, drug addicts need to be rehabilitated than dumped with other drug traders, which is counter-productive.”

Prisons Commissioner H.M.T Upuldeniya who also heads administrative, intelligence and security, concedes that the prisons need restructuring and that sweeping reforms are in the works. “We are in discussions with the judiciary on segregating those convicted of drug-related offences from other prisoners, and hope to make sweeping changes soon,” he said, adding that the issue has become complex because of overcrowding in prisons. “Welikada Prison can accommodate only 1,200, but has over 3,600.”

He said that out of the total number of prisoners, nearly 63 percent are convicted for drug-related offences. “Drug addicts in a society are scattered, but once inside prisons, it’s a meeting place where the drug trade flourishes.” He told the Daily News, that the President’s order for the death penalty has created a sense of fear even for those behind bars. “When a directive of that nature is issued, it is these prisoners who would be affected first. The order has created a sense of fear.”

Despite the ripple effect, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC ) says that the Presidential order may comprise the work that Sri Lanka has done to curb drug trafficking.

Alan Cole, who heads the Global Maritime Crime Programme at the UNODC office in Colombo, praised Sri Lanka’s efforts to curb international drug trafficking, but noted it was a “pity a country as compassionate and sophisticated as Sri Lanka is contemplating going down the path of enforcing the death penalty when it could be doing more on demand reduction, effective law enforcement and education."

“We have been encouraged by the work that the Prime Minister’s office has done. They have been cooperating with us. Problems like this are not easy to fix. But the PM’s office has had the right approach which is increased international cooperation and strengthened law enforcement,” he said. “However, the UNODC is fundamentally opposed to the death penalty - it is wrong in principal and unlikely to work in practice. Sri Lanka is very much leading the debate on tackling drug trafficking, but that role will be compromised if the country goes down the path of reintroducing the death penalty.”

Meanwhile, Institute of Policy Studies research economist Sunimalee Madurawala argues that “fighting illicit drug trafficking is a challenge for Sri Lanka because it lacks the resources, both financial and human. More needs to be done in terms of capacity building and training officers. Domestically, the government needs to allocate more funds for the rehabilitation of drug users and reintegration programmes for victims of drugs.”

According to the NDDCB, around 20 percent of illicit drug users in Sri Lanka are between the age of 19 and 25, and 38 percent are between the age of 26 and 35.

“Sri Lanka is not a producer or manufacturer of illicit drugs, with the exception of cannabis. It is, however, an important hub for international drug trafficking, including opium and heroin. This is mainly a result of the country’s strategic location, especially on important maritime and aviation shipping routes, for drugs originating mainly in India and Pakistan.

Customs Director Parakrama Basnayake believes that recent detections of gold and drugs such as heroin by Customs at the Bandaranaike International Airport are intricately linked. “It can be said that drug consumption locally has increased, which is why there are far more detections of individuals bringing in undeclared gold and jewellery into the country.”

He added that currency circulation in Sri Lanka has dropped inferring that individuals now bring in greater amounts of gold so that it can be bartered in exchange for expensive drugs such as heroin.

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