UN and UK experts call on Pakistan to halt all executions
July 30, 2015
A group of UN experts and a leading British legal body have called on Pakistan’s government to halt all planned executions, including the hanging next Tuesday (4th) of Shafqat Hussain, who was tortured by police and convicted as a juvenile.
In a statement released last night, the UN Special Rapporteurs – including experts on torture, summary executions, and children’s rights – called on Pakistan to stop all further executions, and to commute the sentences of those on the country’s 8,500-strong death row – the largest in the world. The statement raises concerns about the cases of several prisoners next in line for hanging, including Shafqat, Abdul Basit – who is paralyzed and uses a wheelchair – and Khizar Hayat, who is severely mentally ill. The experts said that “most” of the hangings scheduled for the coming days “fall short of international norms”, and called on Pakistan “to continue the moratorium on actual executions and to put in place a legal moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its abolition.”
The UN call follows the release of a report last night raising similar concerns from a leading group of British human rights lawyers, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC). In a statement, BHRC chair Kirsty Brimelow QC said: “The Government of Pakistan should halt all executions pending a full and impartial evaluation of the cases of all condemned persons.” She added: “According to international law, countries that continue to use the death penalty may only impose the sentence for the most serious of crimes and only after all guarantees of fair trial rights have been respected.”
Pakistan has hanged some 192 people since lifting its moratorium on the death penalty in December, and has overtaken Saudi and the US in rate of executions. The Pakistani government’s claim that it is executing ‘terrorists’ was called into question this week by a Reuters report finding that the vast majority of those executed – an estimated 70 per cent – had no links to militancy.
Concerns over Shafqat’s scheduled execution were raised in Pakistan recently by a statutory human rights watchdog. In an opinion, the Sindh Human Rights Commission – headed by a retired judge – called for a halt to plans to execute Shafqat, and for a full examination of his allegations of police torture and his young age at the time of sentencing. The Commission criticised the inquiry into his age carried out by the Government’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as “not admissible”, and said: “We fail to understand why [there was] such a careless handling of a serious case where [the] life of a human being is at stake.” It also questioned whether Shafqat can “be executed when there is so much confusion and the evidence is lacking.”
Commenting, Kate Higham, Pakistan caseworker at human rights organization Reprieve, said:
“This is a clear call to the Pakistani government, from both outside and within Pakistan, to stop its senseless wave of executions. With nearly 200 killed, the UN is right to condemn Pakistan for its appalling plans to hang yet more, including Shafqat Hussain next week, as well as mentally ill and disabled prisoners. Pakistan must urgently listen and halt all executions, before more lives are needlessly lost.”
Notes to editors
1. For more information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8140 / alice [DOT] gillham [AT] reprieve.org.uk
2. The UN statement was authored by the Special Rapporteurs on: torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson; the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul; the right to health, Dainius Pûras; and the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar. It can be viewed here.
3. The BCHR report can be viewed here.