PAKISTAN: The Death Penalty
For the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan [6-17 November 2017]
Submitted by ADPAN (Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network) and
15 Civil Society Organisations(CSOs) listed below
After 8 years of moratorium on execution, in the wake of Peshawar massacre of 2014, when more than 150 people (there was no official figure available as many injured succumbed to injuries later) mostly school pupils were martyred and many others were seriously injured, the government of Pakistan decided to lift the moratorium on death penalty in terrorism related cases, however later it has silently lifted the moratorium for all capital cases.
About 471 prisoners have been said to be executed since Pakistan had lifted moratorium.
In 2016, only about 7 out of the 87 executed were for terrorism offences. Thus, only 8% of persons executed for terrorism offences, the very reason given by Pakistan to end the moratorium on executions 8 years ago.(see Human Rights Commission of Pakistan website at http://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Final-Executions-2016.xlsx-9.pdf )
As of December 2017 more than 8000 are languishing on death row in Pakistan, as suggested by various reports, as there is no official data available.
UNFAIR TRIALS – Military Courts and the 21st & 23rd Constitutional Amendment
Pakistan created special military courts to try persons, including civilians, alleged to have committed terrorism offences but these courts fall short of fair trial standards. There is not even no right to appeal from the decisions of these courts.
The special military courts, to try alleged terrorism related offenders, were set up in January 2015, by virtue of Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2015 commonly known as the 21st Constitution Amendment. (http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1449574923_658.pdf) This special legislation had a sunset clause by the virtue of which it would expire on Jan 7, 2017 and the military courts would cease to exist. But through Twenty third amendment Act of 2017, military courts have been revived for further two years period up to January 2019. (http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1491460727_515.pdf)
The military courts began trials in February 2015 and during the period from January 2015 to January 2017, had convicted 274 hardcore militants of which 161 were sentenced to death whereas 113 others were awarded prison terms, mostly life imprisonment. https://www.ispr.gov.pk/front/main.asp?o=t-press_release&cat=army&date=2017/1/8
Human Rights groups in Pakistan have time and again voiced serious concerns over the procedure adopted by the military courts.
Reports state that most of the relatives of the persons arrested, detained and convicted by these military courts, only came to know about the conviction of their dear and near ones through media when the Inter Services Public Relations made public the convictions and sentence through issuance of press releases. In several of the cases people had complained that their convicted relatives were believed to be “missing persons” when in fact they had been in detention for many years before their trial and subsequent convictions.
Military court trials, in pursuant to the constitutional amendments, fall far short of international fair trial standards and also to the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan (especially right to life, right to fair trial and right to have counsel of one’s own choice, Article 9, 10 and 10 (a)).
Further, in most of the cases it has been alleged that the accused confessed his crime which itself questions the justice of the whole arrest, detention, prosecution and the trial before such military courts.(ISPR press release of May 12, July 14, October 13, November 7,22, December 16, 28, 2016. https://www.ispr.gov.pk/front/main.asp?o=t-press_release&cat=army&date=2016/12/28
High number of confessions raised serious questions about the interrogation methods employed, and suggest the possibility of even torture and threats.
Non availability of oversight of Superior Courts is another point of concern as decisions of military courts are only permissible to limited judicial review, that is only with regard the question of lack of jurisdiction, coram non judice or mala fides.
It must be noted in that a, sentence of death awarded in the formal justice system of Pakistan by any session court is subject to confirmation by a two member bench of the High Court but this necessary protection against miscarriage of justice is not available to persons charged and tried by these military courts.
Though, Pakistan Army amendment Act, 2017, provides some protection like, ground of arrest within 24 hours of arrest, right to engage counsel of one’s own choice, application of Qanoon e Shahadat Order 1984 (Law of Evidence, 1984) but still since there is no right of comprehensive judicial review or even right of appeal to higher courts, the right or ability to challenge the deprivation of such rights and protections provided for in the Army Act, is easily denied.
Military Courts have also tried and convicted juveniles. One example is the case of Haider Ali.
Haider Ali, was convicted by military court but his mother challenged the conviction on the grounds that when Haider Ali was taken in to custody by military agencies, he was grade 10 student(about 15 years old), and that the military courts have no jurisdiction to try a juvenile. Unfortunately, both the High Court and the Supreme Court agreed with the prosecution that that the amendments to the Army Act superseded all other laws,(section 4, Pakistan Army Amendment Act 2017) and military courts could legally try individuals suspected of committing terrorism-related offences, even if they were under the age of 18 at the time of offence. http://www.supremecourt.gov.pk/web/user_files/File/C.P._842_2016.pdf ;http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1491460313_135.pdf
Reforms in the legal framework:
Though Pakistan has ratified ICCPR, UNCAT UNCRC that required the State Parties to limit the death penalty only to the most serious offences, to not resort to torture, and to ensure special protection for children but the Pakistan, military courts are dispensing “justice”, and even trying civilians and children in contravention to Pakistan’s commitment to these UN Conventions and/or Treaties..
The only source of information of those who arrested, detained, tried and convicted by military courts is a media statement of the Inter Service Public Relation (ISPR) after sentence has been meted out, with no other necessary details.
Death penalty through the military courts for those committing acts of terrorism has failed to deter such crimes. The series of attacks since the end of the moratorium and the imposition of the death penalty is sufficient proof of this.
There were only 2 crimes carrying death penalty in 1947 when Pakistan came in to being but now there are altogether 27 offences that carry death penalty in Pakistan. Further, Death penalty in Pakistan is not reserved to the most serious crimes but also now includes ordinary offences like kidnapping and drug offences.
- Abolish Military Courts System. Pakistan should try all persons, including those accused of committing terrorist linked offences in the normal criminal courts. Repeal the twenty third constitutional amendments and all subsequent amendments in the Army Act that allow military courts to try civilians, that undermine legal safeguards that ensure fair trial.
- Until the military courts system is abolished, and the 23rd Constitutional amendment is repealed, there must be:-
a. Immediate access to lawyers and family members of persons arrested and detained for alleged terrorist acts
b.The right to a fair and open trial, with the right to appeal;
c. Immediate public disclosure of persons arrested, detained and being tried
d. The transfer of all cases pending or before the military court involving civilians should be transferred and tried before the ordinary criminal courts;
e. That all those persons convicted and sentenced to death by military courts shall not be executed, until and unless the conviction and sentenced have been reviewed and confirmed by a 2 member bench of the High Court, as is the requirement for cases where persons are sentenced to death in the normal courts in Pakistan;
f. That juveniles and/or children shall not be tried in military courts, and should never be sentenced to death.
g. Make public the exact number of death row prisoners along with case details of all those who have been tried and convicted by military courts since the introduction of 21st constitutional amendment.
- Being a party to the International Covenant on The Civil And Political Rights (ICCPR), Pakistan should immediately impose moratorium on death penalty as a first step towards abolition, restrict the number of offences carrying death penalty to the most serious crime only, as reflected in Article 6 of the ICCPR.
Dated: 7 November 2017
Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network(ADPAN)
Democratic Commission for Human Development, Pakistan
MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)
Legal Awareness Watch (LAW), Pakistan
Christian Development Alternative (CDA), Bangladesh
South Asia Partnership- Pakistan
Youth for Democracy and Development
Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
Australians Against Capital Punishment(AACP)
Women in Struggle for Empowerment, Pakistan (WISE)
Centre for Human Rights Education- Pakistan
National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan
NGO’s Development Society- NDS Sindh
PIRBHAT Women’s Development Society Sindh
Saeeda Diep Institute For Peace And Secular Studies