HRCP seeks abolition of death penalty, moratorium on executions

Press Release, October 10

 

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called upon the government to end the death penalty in the country, and place an immediate moratorium on executions until the punishment is abolished.

 

In a statement issued on World Day against the Death Penalty on Friday, the Commission said: The government of Pakistan should seriously consider moving towards the abolition of death penalty. While the government’s announcement in June to commute death sentences to life imprisonment was admirable, it has not been followed up by action.

 

The pronouncement of punishment and executions continue in Pakistan amid the acknowledged and well documented critical defects of the law, of the administration of justice, of the police investigation methods, the chronic corruption and the cultural prejudices affecting women and religious minorities. In the circumstances, the punishment allows for a high probability of miscarriages of justice, which is wholly unacceptable in any civilised society, but even more so when the punishment is irreversible.

 

The HRCP notes that, contrary to the much vaunted argument of deterrence, the systematic and generalised application of death penalty has not led to an improvement of the situation of law and order in the country.

 

It is ironic that while Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world – with around 7,000 convicts on the death row in Pakistan today –  yet its law and order situation is alarmingly dismal. The massive application of death penalty has not strengthened the rule of law, but its application has, much on the contrary, weakened it substantially.

 

The death penalty is discriminatory, unfair and utterly inefficient and must be abandoned in accordance with the international human rights law.

 

In the very least the government should also promptly restrict the number of offences carrying the death sentence to the most serious crimes only, and refrain from adopting new crimes entailing capital punishment, in conformity with international human rights standards. Imposition of capital punishment, if it is to be passed at all must be in the rarest of cases and execution of it as a measure of last resort.

 

In the meanwhile, the government must adopt an immediate moratorium on executions in light of the serious shortcomings of due process and fair trial in the criminal justice system. There is a serious danger of miscarriage of justice resulting in taking an innocent life if executions are carried out without serious review of the law and its practice. It is vital that the criminal legal system be thoroughly reformed to reduce the incidence of crimes and to ensure that wrong persons do not suffer through being implicated falsely in cases. This alone will bring us closer to achieving justice.

 

There must also be an immediate end to the sentencing and execution of minors, and death sentences pronounced against persons who were below 18 at the time of the offence should be forthwith commuted.

 

Pakistan must take the path of conforming its practices to international human rights norms. So far it has only challenged these at all forums.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

Urgent Appeal to Stop Hanging

Press Release, October 6

 

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan strongly appeals to President of Pakistan to revoke hanging of Zulfiqar Ali in Adyala Jail Rawalpindi who’s Red Warrants were issued for his hanging on 8th October, 2008.

 

Zulfiqar Ali is in Jail since 1998 on charge of murder. He was very poor to afford a lawyer to defend himself and did not had a chance of fair trial and basic norms of justice.

 

It is reported that wife of Zulfiqar Ali died of Cancer during his trial and has left two minor girls and no one is to look after them.

 

As recently announced by the Prime Minister of Pakistan that death sentences would be abolished, HRCP reminds and urges that death sentence should be abolished.

 

Iqbal Haider

Co-Chairperson

HRC membership: HRCP expects Pakistan will improve human rights record

Press release, May 29, 2008

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is happy to see Pakistan win membership for a second term to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). It has keenly followed the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan carried out by UNHRC. HRCP hopes that the government will honor the commitments it made and follow up the recommendations submitted by UNHRC. It urges Pakistan to play a constructive role in the world body and improve its human rights record. Human rights bodies expect members of UNHRC to act in a responsible manner and to deepen human rights values at the national and international level.

 

HRCP welcomes some undertakings made by the government of Pakistan. The setting up of an independent national human rights body according to the Paris principles is a step in the right direction. Its effectiveness will depend on the selection of Commissioners and the mandate that the Commission is entrusted with. Members of such commissions must have a sound knowledge of human rights principles and must be individuals of integrity. This membership of the Commission must maintain a gender balance and include minorities. The Commission must have a countrywide jurisdiction and should be able to conduct investigations against allegations of human rights violations carried out by all categories of security forces.

It is encouraging that the government has undertaken to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearances. This is a positive development. It will lend credibility to the new government as it has promised to investigate cases of disappearances. Equally encouraging was the statement made by the government at the UNHRC that it was working on a proposal to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment.

However, the government’s position on the overall issue of death penalty remains ambivalent. It refuses to recognize that the issue of imposition of death penalty was linked to human rights. It made a tall claim that death penalty was imposed after exhaustion of all remedies through due process. HRCP vehemently disagrees.

Safeguards and restrictions to the imposition of death penalty is a universal and recognized human rights principle. It is a fundamental right to life. Capital punishment in Pakistan has not been imposed with caution. Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of prisoners in death cell. At present over 7,500 persons, including a few women are awarded capital punishments. There is sufficient evidence and research to show that due process, safeguards and restrictions imposed under customary international law have not been applied to those convicted to capital punishment.

Pakistan’s representative to the UNHRC made several misleading statements. She assured the members of the UNHRC that while preparing for the Universal Periodic Review the government held wide consultations with human rights bodies in the country. She also assured the Human Rights Council that human rights defenders were not being obstructed or allowed to operate freely. HRCP takes a serious exception to it. The government did not even attempt to hold any dialogue with Pakistan’s human rights organizations during this process. Several human rights defenders were beaten, imprisoned, and tortured in the last few years. Even today, NGOs are not being able to operate freely and are threatened in certain parts of the country. The government has not taken any action against the perpetrators. HRCP expects democratic governments to portray a true picture of the human rights situation in the country and to resist the temptation of undermining recognized human rights norms.

Embarrassing and unconvincing statements were also made in the context of religious minorities. Pakistan’s representative to the UNHRC tried her utmost to convince the Council that incidents of abuse against religious minorities were insignificant. The representatives claimed that the penal code only contained provisions for the proscription of actions and statements that would offend all religions and these laws applied to all without distinction based on faith. In 2007, HRCP has documented several cases of abuse and human rights violations against religious minorities. Reports of demolition and occupation of minority religious sites have also been made public. Pakistan Penal Code specifically prescribes punishments against the Ahmediaya community and discriminates against religious minorities.

Another faux pas made by Pakistan’s representative was to deny the existence of caste system. There are several hundred so-called low-caste Hindus living and being exploited in Sindh.

Pakistani representative, though, admitted and regretted that incitement to hatred against other religions was being promoted in some mosques. She defended inaction and lack of legislation on the plea that “religious sentiments run high in Pakistan”. HRCP regrets that this approach only emboldens those who preach violence and advocate hatred in the name of religion. A large number of such preachers are government employees and inaction of the government only indicates its approval of such hate speech.

HRCP rejects the government’s position at the UNHRC regarding the Hadood Ordinances. It is the obligation of a government to protect women from being abused and exploited. The law of Zina does precisely that. The government is misleading itself by denying that the vulnerability of women being accused of Zina is not a violation of their right. Similarly, marital rape is a crime and not a right or privilege of the offender.

The government of Pakistan also misled the UNHRC by assuring it that security forces were trained in Humanitarian Law and that alleged human rights violations by them were investigated as well as precautions taken to avoid “collateral damage”. HRCP has authentic reports of disappearances, torture, and illegal detention carried out by the security forces with impunity. A large number of non-combatant have been targeted and killed by the security forces and so far, no inquiry or investigation has been carried out. There are hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons who have been virtually abandoned by the government after they left their homes following indiscriminate use of force by the security forces.

HRCP urges the newly elected democratic government to paint a true picture and to acknowledge the large-scale human rights violations committed by the Musharraf regime. By glossing over the dark past, the government will only add salt to the wounds of the victims.

 

I. A. Rehman, Secretary General

 

Statement by the HRCP Annual General Meeting

Lahore, March 30, 2008

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan welcomes the Prime Minister’s 100-day reform and relief package, in particular the lifting of the ban on students’ and trade unions, review of the PEMRA ordinance and the FCR, incentive to women workers, relief to farmers, increase in the minimum wage and expansion of employment opportunities. It is an encouraging declaration of purpose and policy.

HRCP believes that a complete break from authoritarian form of governance requires a forward looking approach to the many crises the country is facing. The foremost need is to establish democratic and responsible government, which fully respects human rights and protects its citizens. HRCP believes that while a large number of reforms are required, some initial steps are vitally needed to pave the way for an atmosphere where human rights can be respected:

1.                  The government of Pakistan should become a party to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political rights, ratify the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the UN Convention on Involuntary Disappearances and the Convention against Torture.         

2.                  Over 1.5 million internally displaced people are in dire state in Pakistan. The government must extend humanitarian assistance to all IDPs and seek for this the co-operation and assistance of the UNHCR.

3.                  At the earliest opportunity, the Parliament should set up a permanent and independent Election Commission and disassociate sitting judges from the electoral process.

4.                   The judiciary must be restored to the position of 2 November and all criteria of independence of the judiciary be adopted, so that the selection and accountability of judges can be made transparent.

5.                  There are thousands of Pakistani prisoners in foreign jails. Over 10,000 are in Gulf countries alone. We urge the government to depute a human rights officer in missions in countries where Pakistani prisoners are suffering. A large number of Pakistani prisoners continue to suffer imprisonment in India despite court orders that they should be repatriated and there are many others who have served their sentences.

6.                  A large number of people are still on the list of the disappeared and their cases are pending in various courts for over a year. The superior judiciary too could not get these individuals freed from the illegal detention made by security and intelligence agencies of the country. The new government should order their release and record their statements, so that the perpetrators of this heinous crime can be brought to justice.

7.                  No political government can survive nor can people’s rights be protected unless the working of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies is made transparent and they are accountable to the elected authorities of the country. The Parliament should identify the laws under which the intelligence agencies of the country operate and make them accountable. A clear message must be sent out that abuse of citizens’ rights and excesses against them by security and intelligence agencies will no longer be tolerated.

8.                  Over 7000 prisoners are on the death row. In the past year, 134 convicts were executed and 309 new ones awarded death penalty. The number of people awarded death penalty and the executions are among the highest in the world. HRCP research shows that international safeguards and restrictions on the application of death penalty are almost never observed. Capital punishment is irreversible and there is strong evidence that it is being applied in the country without regard to the due process. HRCP believes that a moratorium be immediately issued on the execution of death penalty and in the meanwhile a parliamentary committee should review the application of this form of punishment.

9.                  All reports of deaths in custody, torture or through so-called encounters must be thoroughly investigated. The reports of such investigations should be filed in the courts of the District and Civil judges, and made freely available to the media and civil society.

10.             All safe houses being illegally run by the law enforcement and security forces must be closed.

11.             The government must ensure that women also benefit directly from ownership rights transferred to the disadvantaged section of society by the government.

12.             NGOs must be granted access to prisons and police stations.

13.             The Prime Minister must take a pledge from all political parties to denounce militancy and ensure that no political party arms itself.

14.             It is crucial that a high level investigation be carried out into the target killing of scores of policemen in all parts of the country so that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.

15.             Finally, HRCP urges members of the parliament to eliminate the misuse of authority by the political forces themselves, including the Nazims. This was particularly evident during the recent election.

16.             Repeal of Pakistan Bar Council Act amendments.

HRCP recognizes that the government is faced with serious economic challenges which require its utmost priority, but these challenges cannot be met unless the rights of the people are fully guaranteed.

HRCP welcomes Sarabjit reprieve, urges leniency

Press release, March 19

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LAHORE: While welcoming a one-month stay of execution of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national convicted in Pakistan, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called for a review of his case in the larger interest of the people of the sub-continent.

Singh was to be hanged on April 1 following his conviction on charges of involvement in terrorist activities.

The Commission said: HRCP is as a matter of principle opposed to the award of the death penalty. While the death penalty continues to be awarded, it has have always argued in favour of leniency and clemency, especially in view of the flawed justice systems in this part of the world.

The relations between India and Pakistan have long affected the entire population of South Asia. One of the factors contributing to tensions between the two neighbours is the horrible treatment they mete out to one another’s prisoners. The recent death of a Pakistani youth, Khalid Mahmud, caused great distress among the people in Pakistan. The execution of Sarabjit Singh is bound to inflame passions in India. Nothing can condone the death of Khalid Mahmud and his suffering in prison (an inquiry is due), Pakistan will do well to avoid anything that might be considered as vengeful.

Pakistan is entering a new phase with the formation of the new government. At a time when normalization of ties between the two countries is likely to be high on the new government’s agenda, HRCP urges Pakistan to review Sarabjit’s sentence and avoid actions that might be deemed as retaliation.

Iqbal Haider

Secretary-General