On 10 October the European Union joined many partners across the globe to mark the World Day against the Death Penalty. The European Union remains among the strongest advocates for world-wide abolition of the death penalty. We have long since done away with this cruel and unusual form of punishment on our own territory.

In last year’s op-ed, I explained the reasons for the European Union’s strong and principled opposition to the death penalty, but in the interest of new readers I will restate them. Firstly, we believe that it can never be morally justified for the state to take a life. Secondly, there is no evidence to support that capital punishment has any deterrent effects on the level of violent crime in a society. Thirdly, no justice system is infallible and executions make it impossible to reverse miscarriages of justice. And finally, the death penalty is socially biased, affecting mostly the poor.

I am happy to announce that our efforts and those of our partners are bearing fruit, and that the global trend points towards abolition. Between 1993 and 2016 the number of countries that abolished the Death Penalty by law has grown considerably. In 2015 alone, the Republic of Congo, Fiji, Madagascar and Suriname added themselves to this list and in 2016 Guinea, Mongolia and Nauru followed, bringing the total number of abolitionist countries in law or practice to 140.

In June this year the Oslo World Congress against the Death Penalty brought together representatives from these countries to take stock of the current abolitionist state worldwide. The Congress adopted a powerful statement, calling on states that maintain the death penalty to drastically reduce the scope of crimes punishable by death, to renounce the use of the death penalty for minors, to implement a moratorium on death sentences and executions and to guarantee competent counsel for indigent capital defendants.

Unfortunately, while the number of countries that apply the death penalty is decreasing, there was last year an increase in the number of executions. This can be traced back to only a few countries that have become more prolific in the use of this instrument. In 2015, according to Amnesty International, 89 percent of recorded executions were carried out in just three countries, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, not counting China where no reliable data is available, but where it is believed that hundreds if not thousands are executed each year.

For many years Pakistan maintained a moratorium on executions. I am of course aware of the difficult security situation and the brutal and cowardly attack on the Army School in Peshawar, which led to the decision to lift the moratorium. As a human being I can understand the strong call for retribution which it prompted. However, in the European Union we also face the rise of terrorist attacks, but there still continues to be broad popular support for abolition.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) 425 people have been executed in Pakistan’s since the moratorium was lifted in December 2014. I am pleased to note that the pace of executions has slowed with only 85 carried out so far this year against 333 for all of last year. However, in my opinion, 85 executions are still 85 too many.

It is worth looking at who is being executed. According to the information from HRCP, the large majority are common criminals. This seems to contradict the assertion made by some that the death penalty is necessary to combat the real and serious threat of terrorism against the Pakistani people. It would also suggest that there is no link between the very positive reduction of terrorist attacks achieved in the last few years and the reintroduction of the death penalty.

It also seems clear that those being executed are almost exclusively poor and uneducated and with access to only very basic legal representation. Moreover, in many of the cases examined there seems to be allegations of torture being used by the police to extract confessions. This all creates a very real risk that innocent people have been executed; something which I think everyone, whether Pakistani or European can agree would be a great tragedy.

Finally, there have been a number of cases where controversy has arisen around the age or mental disability of the person scheduled for execution. Executing persons who were juveniles when they committed a crime or were or have become mentally ill would be against both international and domestic law. It can sometimes be difficult to determine age or mental state objectively, but again I think most will agree that the defendant should be given the benefit of the doubt.

In the end it is up to the people of Pakistan to decide the kind of society they want to live in. I can only encourage that there is a popular debate about death penalty. The above observations are made in the spirit of friendship and I hope that they may be able to provide some food for thought in such a debate. And on a personal note I hope that in a not too distant future Pakistan will re-join the ever growing family of abolitionist nations.