PR LAHORE - It has been two years since the tragic attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. No amount of commiseration or time can ever mitigate the horror of that day.

In response, Pakistan ended its six-year-old moratorium on capital punishment as part of its National Action Plan (NAP). The government was adamant that only those convicted of terrorism would be executed. This was false, as the moratorium for all capital crimes was lifted just three months later in March 2015 – widely sounded by the state as the only effective means of fighting terrorism.

An analysis of the 419 executions that have occurred so far reveals significant flaws in that narrative.

According to data collected by Justice Project Pakistan, only 16 percent of the executions carried out since December 2014 were related to terrorism charges.

The remainder have included several cases of wrongful execution such as juveniles, the mentally ill and the physically disabled, all of which are expressly forbidden in light of Pakistan’s international legal obligations.

This figure is even more problematic when considering that in as many as 88 percent of ‘terrorism’ cases, there was no link to a terrorist organisation or anything that can reasonably be defined as terrorism.

It is a dishonour to the memory of the APS attack victims for the state to take lives in their name, when they have no bearing on curbing the menace that caused their deaths.

Pakistan has retained its notorious status of being the third most prolific executioner in the world two years in a row. Under Pakistani law, 27 crimes carry the death sentence and an average of 258 death sentences have been imposed yearly from 2007 to 2015, explaining why the country has the highest populated death row in the world. Given these statistics, it is clear that Pakistan does not reserve the death penalty for ‘the most serious crimes’ as required by international law.

The criminal justice system that so eagerly imposes death sentences in the country warrants close examination. Pakistan’s faulty legal infrastructure remains inaccessible, corrupt, mired in red tape, beholden to power and usurped by influence and wealth, creating a permissive environment for the routine miscarriage of justice.

This is compounded by the lack of a meaningful appellate process for capital cases, a blatant violation of Pakistan’s international human rights obligations. Until March this year, the Presidency had 444 pending mercy petitions. So far, the known number of presidential pardons granted stands at zero.

NAP correctly observed that there is a need to “revamp and reform Pakistan’s criminal justice system” but no significant effort has been made to do this so far. Like last year, even more cases of wrongful executions have come to light in 2016. In October, the Supreme Court acquitted two brothers in Bahawalpur after they spent 11 years on death row, only to find they had already been executed the year before. Another prisoner was found innocent a year after he had been found dead in his cell. There are likely many more cases like this, considering a condemned prisoner will spend an average of 11.41 years on death row.

Pakistan has a series of upcoming UN reviews in 2017, where its adherence to its international legal commitments such as the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention Against Torture (CAT) and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will be evaluated.

 

 

Needless to say, Pakistan’s broad scope of its application of the death penalty will feature heavily, and the country’s representatives will have to explain why the innocent, the mentally ill, the physically disabled and juveniles have been executed under its watch. This will have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s eligibility for the GSP plus trade status.

Sarah Belal, Executive Director of Justice Project Pakistan adds: “Widespread and fundamental failings of the criminal justice system warrant an immediate suspension of the capital punishment regime in Pakistan. JPP will always stand with the families of those affected by terrorism, and hopes that their sacrifice is honoured appropriately. This cannot be the case if Pakistan continues to wrongfully execute innocent individuals, juveniles and persons with mental and physical disabilities.”