NEW YORK: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday termed Pakistan’s decision to lift a ban on capital punishment as ‘flawed and reckless response’ to the horrific Peshawar school attack and urged Pakistan to reinstate the moratorium on death penalty as a step toward its abolition.
On December 17, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to end a moratorium on the death penalty in terror-related cases, a day after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan gunmen killed 141 people, including 132 children, in an attack on a school in Peshawar.
“Reinstating the death penalty is a flawed and reckless response to the horrific Peshawar attack,” said HRW Deputy Asia Director Phelim Kine.
“The Peshawar attack demands government action to actually address the security threat posed by militant groups, not a knee-jerk reaction that will result in more needless deaths.”
Terming the death penalty ‘an inherently cruel and irrevocable punishment’ that would not help in protecting civilians from terrorist attacks, Kine said “The Pakistan government can take a powerful symbolic stand against the mass murder in Peshawar by reaffirming its opposition to killing and immediately reinstating the death penalty moratorium.”
The premier abolished the moratorium on the death penalty for non-military personnel “in terrorism related cases,” instituted by then President Asif Ali Zardari in 2008. As of July 2014 there were 800 people on death row in Pakistan for “terrorism” convictions and another 17,000 people undergoing prosecution for alleged terrorism offenses.
HRW said it opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.
A joint report issued earlier in December by the nongovernmental human rights organisations Justice Project Pakistan and Reprieve concluded that the high number of people on death row for terrorism-related convictions reflects an “overuse” of anti-terrorism laws by Pakistan’s security forces and judiciary. The report states that “instead of being reserved for the most serious cases of recognisable acts of terror, the anti-terror legislation is in fact being used to try ordinary criminal cases, either in a deliberate attempt to evade the procedural safeguards guaranteed by ordinary courts or due to the vague and overly broad definitions of ‘terrorism’ in the legislation.”