Pakistan’s decision to lift death penalty moratorium a disaster for human rights

Pakistan’s decision to fully reinstate the death penalty puts at imminent risk of execution more than 500 people on death row who have exhausted all avenues of appeal, with another 8000 facing death penalties, said the ICJ today.

“The total abandonment of the moratorium on the death penalty is a disaster for human rights in Pakistan,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia director. “We fear a major acceleration in the flow of executions we have seen over the past few months—none of which do anything to protect the rights of the Pakistani people.”

25 people have been executed since 16 December 2014, when Pakistan lifted a moratorium on executions in cases of capital punishment related to terrorism. The decision to partially lift a six-year unofficial moratorium on executions was in response to an attack on a school in Peshawar, killing 150 people, almost all of them children. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

In January, Pakistan also amended the Constitution and the Army Act, 1952, empowering military courts to try civilians for terrorism related offences.

“The Pakistani people face a very real threat from terrorist attacks, but there is no indication that the death penalty will decrease this threat,” said Zarifi. “Instead, the government is targeting hundreds of people on death row whose convictions had nothing to do with terrorism-related offenses.”

In Pakistan, capital punishment is prescribed for 27 different offences, including blasphemy, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, kidnapping or abduction, rape, assault on the modesty of women and the stripping of women’s clothes, smuggling of drugs, arms trading and sabotage of the railway system. Many of these crimes do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ stipulated by Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010. Article 6 of the ICCPR, guaranteeing the right to life, requires that states restrict capital punishment to only the ‘most serious crimes’. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has clarified that in the context of the death penalty, the definition of the ‘most serious crimes’ is limited to those cases in which there was an intention to kill, which resulted in the loss of life.

In December 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, that emphasizes that that the use of the death penalty undermines human dignity and that calls on countries that maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on its use with a view to its abolition. An overwhelming majority of 117 UN Member States voted in favor of the call for a worldwide moratorium on executions, as a step towards abolition of the death penalty.

Pakistan should reinstate a moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to definitively abolishing the practice in law,” said Zarifi.

ICJ opposes capital punishment in all cases without exception. The death penalty constitutes a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.


Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; email: sam.zarifi(a)

Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Advisor for Pakistan (London), t: +447889565691; email: reema.omer(a)

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