ISLAMABAD - The Human Rights Watch (HRW) and International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have urged the federal government to withdraw its decision to resume executions and renew its moratorium on the death penalty.
In a joint letter written to President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Secretary for Law, Justice and Human Rights Muhammad Raza Khan, they have asked the government to abolish the death penalty one and for all.
"After a five-year unofficial moratorium on executions, Pakistan's new government has said it intends to resume the heinous practice of sending people to the gallows," said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director at HRW. "The government should instead declare an official moratorium, commute all existing death sentences, and then abolish the death penalty once and for all."
The ICJ and HRW urged the government to demonstrate its commitment to international human rights obligations by halting all executions, immediately adopting a moratorium on the death penalty, and abolishing the death penalty permanently in domestic law. Pakistan should also ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the abolition of the death penalty.
"A return to executions will derail one of democratic Pakistan's most tangible human rights successes," said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director of the ICJ. "Under military rule, Pakistan endured the widespread application of the death penalty. The new government should demonstrate its clear opposition to any use of this ghastly punishment," he said. Pakistan has had a moratorium on the death penalty since June 2008, with only the execution of Muhammad Hussain in November 2012 following a court martial.
A counterterrorism court in Sindh province has issued "black warrants" for the execution of two members of the banned sectarian and militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Attaullah alias Qasim and Muhammad Azam alias Sharif. The two men were convicted by a counterterrorism court in July 2004 for the killing of a Shia doctor. They are scheduled to be executed between August 20 and 22, 2013.
"It is absolutely essential that militants who threaten and kill people be held accountable for their crimes," Hasan said. "However, terrorism won't be stopped by hangings but by rights respecting counterterrorism measures and fair prosecutions."
The HRW and ICJ oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice. On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution by a wide margin calling for a worldwide moratorium.
In 2008, the Pakistan Federal Cabinet adopted a proposal to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. Before its term expired, the Pakistan People's Party-led government reportedly planned to table a bill in Parliament to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. Currently, a petition calling for the commutation of death sentences is also being considered by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The resumption of the death penalty puts Pakistan in opposition to the global and regional movement towards the abolition of the death penalty.
Currently, 150 countries worldwide, including 30 states in the Asia-Pacific region, have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The decision not to renew the moratorium on executions and carrying out executions constitutes a major step back for human rights in the country.
This decision is all the more alarming given that more than 7,000 people are on death row in Pakistan.