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Waiting for the End

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Asif Hassan—AFP

Despite an overall reduction in executions, Pakistan sentenced dozens to death last year.

Amnesty International on Tuesday reported that Pakistan had reduced the total number of convicts executed from 2015 to 2016 by 73 percent—from 326 to 87—but despite this drastic reduction, the number of prisoners sentenced to death has not abated.

In a press release, non-governmental Justice Project Pakistan notes the “alarming” trend, pointing to the nearly 360 prisoners sentenced to death in 2016, against the 121 who were awarded capital punishment in 2015. “The scope of the death penalty cannot be reduced by simply hanging fewer prisoners,” it says, adding that the rising number of death sentences belie the urgent need for reform of Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

“The Government of Pakistan recognizes that there is a problem, that our criminal justice system is riddled with structural problems,” says JPP executive director Sarah Belal. “The stopgap method of hanging fewer people is not enough. It is time for the stakeholders to commit to genuine reform, and until it does, to restore the moratorium on the death penalty.”

Even before last year’s surge in convicts sentenced to death, Pakistan had one of the highest concentrations of prisoners on death row in the world. According to the JPP, this includes juvenile offenders, mentally ill and disabled prisoners and people coerced into false confessions through torture. Pakistan’s indiscriminate use of the death penalty—there are 27 crimes eligible for capital punishment—is also a cause for concern and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Islamabad in 2010.

Pakistan’s ongoing use of the death penalty remains a major violation of international human rights obligations. Islamabad’s failure to adhere to several treaties it is a signatory to could cost it beneficial trade deals, according to experts, and the JPP notes that starting from April 18, Pakistan will be required to answer for its implementation of the death penalty before three U.N. Treaty Bodies as well as undergo its Universal Periodic Review. Failure to adequately explain its use of the death penalty could cost Islamabad more than it has bargained for.

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