Pakistan: Poor and marginalized suffer disproportionately from capital punishment

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In a new report issued today, FIDH and its member organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), detail the systemic bias faced by the poor and marginalized with regards to the death penalty in Pakistan. The report, published ahead of the World Day Against the Death Penalty (10 October), urges the Pakistani government to reform the criminal justice system to eradicate the procedural and policy issues that are among the primary causes of high rates of capital convictions and executions for the most vulnerable members of society.

The report, titled “Punished for Being Vulnerable: How Pakistan executes the poorest and the most marginalized in society”, is based on an investigation the two organizations carried out in November 2018 to examine the issue of capital punishment in Pakistan. The investigation focused on fair trial rights for defendants accused of capital offenses, detention conditions on death row, the conviction and execution of juveniles, and the toll the use of the death penalty takes on convicts’ families. A disturbing theme emerged throughout the course of the investigation: lower economic classes and other vulnerable communities are disproportionately impacted by the deficiencies of Pakistan’s criminal justice system.

“It is highly concerning that those at the margins of Pakistani society are more likely to be convicted of capital offenses. While the death penalty violates the most fundamental human rights wherever it is used, in Pakistan its discriminatory application is particularly egregious"

Shawan Jabarin, FIDH Secretary General.

The way Pakistan’s criminal justice system currently operates – from police investigations, to prosecutions, to trials – results in the most vulnerable segments of society being much more likely to confess to crimes under duress, be prosecuted in unfair trials, and sentenced to death. They face an insurmountable systemic bias, which leaves them even more susceptible to violations of due process and at risk of being executed.

"There is an urgent need for the Pakistani government to address the numerous failures of the criminal justice system, not only to move Pakistan towards complete abolition of the death penalty but also to promote a system that respects fair trial rights for all."

Dr Mehdi Hasan, HRCP chair

Capital punishment in Pakistan also entails significant and long-lasting harm for family members of those on death row, including socioeconomic impacts. Convicts tend to be their families’ breadwinners, and legal processes – which can last for years – can impose crippling costs. Furthermore, the ordeal can inflict psychosocial anguish. The wife of a death row prisoner expressed the effect of her husband’s imprisonment on her: “[My husband] has been in jail for 27 years. He is being punished inside the jail and I am being punished outside the jail."

While executions in Pakistan have decreased in recent years, the country remains one of the world’s top executioners. Between the end of a moratorium on executions in December 2014 and August 2019, close to 1,800 death sentences were imposed across the nation’s court system and 520 people were executed. Thirty-two offenses remain punishable by death in Pakistan, including for many offenses that fail to meet the “most serious crimes” threshold under international law.

This report follows up on a previous joint FIDH-HRCP report, “Slow march to the gallows: Death penalty in Pakistan”, published in January 2007.

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