FIDH and HRCP ask the government to ensure that no executions will take place in Pakistan

24/11/2008
Press release

Open Letter to
- The Honorable Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister of Pakistan
- Office of the Prime Minister , Islamabad, Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Excellency,

We are writing to you in order to ask your government to ensure that no executions will take place in Pakistan as long as the case related to the constitutionality of the government’s proposal to commute all death sentences is pending before the Supreme Court.

On July 2, 2008, the Pakistani Federal Cabinet has adopted a proposal to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment. This proposal was subjected to approval by the President Pervez Musharraf in order to enter into force. In effect, under Article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, "The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority". Such a decision would benefit the 7000 death row prisoners in Pakistan.

FIDH and HRCP welcomed this initiative as a historical breakthrough in the fight against the death penalty. We understand, however, that the Supreme Court subsequently decided suo motu to look at the constitutionality of this government proposal, in light of the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance. We are consequently urging you to ensure that while this case is pending before the Supreme Court, no executions will be carried out in the country.

FIDH and HRCP have repeatedly asked for a profound reform of the Qisas and Diyat Law because it de facto amounts to a privatisation of justice, as the offences of physical injury, manslaughter and murder are no longer offences to the state, but are considered a dealing between two private parties. The State withdraws from one of its main responsibilities, as it no longer is the guardian of the rule of law through the exercise of justice. In addition, under this law, pardoning a condemned prisoner in case of murder rests solely with the heirs of the victim, rather than with the President, contrary to Article 45 of the Constitution. Indeed, under this ordinance, passed as a law in 1997, the aggrieved party is given precedence to choose the penalty for the culprit. Under Islamic law, the punishment can either be in the form of qisas (equal or similar punishment for the crime committed) or diyat (compensation payable to the victim’s legal heirs). All offences under the Ordinance are hence compoundable, i.e. can be settled ex curiae.

The case of Mirza Tahir Hussain, who was granted pardon by President Musharraf on 17 November 2006 after massive international pressure (Mr Hussain holds dual Pakistani and British citizenship), against the wishes of the victim’s family, shows, however, that, in spite of the Qisas and Diyat Lw, the President of Pakistan remains formally empowered to exercise his right to grant clemency to condemned prisoners under the Constitution.

We hope that you will take our appeal into consideration and suspend all executions at least until the Supreme Court will issue its ruling on this case.

Sincerely yours

Asma Jahangir
- Chairperson, HRCP

Souhayr Belhassen
- President, FIDH

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