Two years after Islamabad ended its six-year moratorium on capital punishment following the Pakistani Taliban’s attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School, a new report has found that the majority of those hanged were not convicted on terrorism charges.
On Dec. 16, 2014, heavily armed militants targeted the Army Public School, killing over 150 people—mostly schoolchildren. Following the attack, Islamabad enacted a National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, and ended a moratorium on the death penalty, promising to only execute those convicted of “lethal” and “terrorist” offenses. A report compiled by non-governmental organization Justice Project Pakistan has found little evidence of this.
In its report, JPP found that of the 419 executions performed thus far, only 16 percent were linked to terrorism. Even among those convicted of “terrorism,” it states, 88 percent had “no link to a terrorist organization or anything that can reasonably be defined as terrorism.” Terming the executions a “dishonor” to the memory of the APS victims in whose names they were resumed, the report says there has been little visible impact on curbing the menace that led to their deaths.
Instead, the report notes, there have been several cases of “wrongful execution such as juveniles, the mentally ill and the physically disabled”—convicts who are exempt from capital punishment under Pakistan’s international legal obligations.
“JPP will always stand with the families of those affected by terrorism, and hopes that their sacrifice is honored appropriately,” says Sarah Belal, executive director of the organization, “This cannot be the case if Pakistan continues to wrongfully execute innocent individuals, juveniles and persons with mental and physical disabilities.”
According to the report, Pakistan remained the third most prolific executioner in the world in 2016—behind only Iran and Saudi Arabia. China is excluded from this ranking, as it keeps executions a state secret. By some estimates, Pakistan has over 8,000 people on death row—likely due to the 27 crimes that carry the death penalty, belying international obligations that require capital punishment to be reserved for “the most serious crimes.”
JPP claims Pakistan’s flawed criminal justice system is largely to blame, as it lacks a meaningful appellate process and habitually perpetuates miscarriages of justice. While noting that NAP’s stated desire to revamp and reform the criminal justice system is laudable, JPP points out that implementation of this goal remains ineffectual. “In October, the Supreme Court acquitted two brothers in Bahawalpur after they spent 11 years on death row, only to find they had already been executed the year before. Another prisoner was found innocent a year after he had been found dead in his cell,” it says, adding that condemned prisoners spend an average of 11.41 years on death row.
Pakistan has little choice but to ensure it is in compliance with international obligations if it wants to retain duty free access to the European market—a key trade requirement—under its coveted GSP Plus status. Next year, Islamabad faces a series of U.N. reviews on its adherence to its international legal commitments such as the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. The E.U. has already warned that failure to comply with such conventions could lead to suspension of the GSP Plus status. With its broad application of the death penalty—and string of wrongful executions—Islamabad may soon face a rude awakening if it doesn’t implement reforms promised under NAP.