Pakistan urged to reimpose moratorium on death penalty

Government is told to improve efficacy of criminal investigations and introduce broader prison reforms

Oct 13, 2021

Pakistan has 33 crimes punishable by death by hanging. (Photo: YouTube)

While marking the World Day Against the Death Penalty, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) strongly urged the government to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty and focus instead on improving the efficacy of criminal investigations while introducing broader prison reforms that protect the fundamental rights of the incarcerated population — to whom the state owes a duty of care.

“It takes this opportunity to reiterate its stance on the death penalty: that the state’s duty is to preserve life, not extinguish it, and that, at a practical level, there is no scientific evidence to show that the death penalty reduces the incidence of crime,” the commission said in a press statement on Oct. 10.

“Importantly, the death penalty in an unsatisfactory judicial system should not be permitted. Not only are the poor and resourceless overwhelmingly at risk of being executed when convicted but also special cases, such as minors and the mentally challenged, remain under threat in pro-death penalty regimes.”

It is worth noting that, according to HRCP records, the state did not execute any prisoners in 2020 and that there was a significant fall in the number of cases in which the death penalty was awarded — from at least 578 in 2019 to 177 in 2020.

In addition, the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling in February — that prisoners with serious mental health problems cannot be executed for their crimes — was a welcome development.

The commission urged the state to see this as a starting point for reviewing the number of crimes punishable by death (currently 33), most of which do not meet the threshold of "most serious" under international law, and for acknowledging that its international human rights obligations clearly preclude the use of the death penalty in all

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