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Asia

Thousands of lives at risk as Pakistan lifts ban on death penalty

Pakistan's decision to lift its moratorium on capital punishment in all cases is a "highly regressive" move that could potentially put thousands of death row inmates' lives at risk, as AI's David Griffiths tells DW.

In a move that puts thousands of prisoners' lives at risk, the Pakistani government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted its moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases on Tuesday, March 10. The decision comes after the government repealed a ban on executions in terrorism-related cases at the end of last year, following a brutal terror attack on a school in Peshawar, which claimed the lives of more than a hundred children.

Since December last year, Pakistan has executed 24 convicts. It is estimated that the South Asian nation currently has more than 8,000 people on death row, one of the highest in the world. The authorities have directed provincial governments to execute prisoners, who had exhausted all avenues of appeal and clemency, news agency AFP quotes a senior government official as saying.

While some sections in Pakistan remain in favor of the capital punishment, saying that it acts as a deterrent, others criticize Islamabad's decision to resume the death penalty calling it an ineffective form of punishment.

David Griffiths Amnesty International

Griffiths: 'There is no evidence whatsoever to support that the death penalty works as a particular deterrent'

In a DW interview, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific Director, David Griffiths, says that by expanding the scope of the death penalty further and opening up for executions of non-terror convicts, Pakistan is using the death penalty as a quick-fix solution to tackling crime, when in reality there is no evidence to support that it works as a deterrent.

DW: Why has Pakistan decided to lift its moratorium on the death penalty in all capital cases?

David Griffiths: Lifting the full moratorium on the death penalty is a highly regressive move by the Pakistani government, which could potentially put thousands of death row inmates' lives at risk. This appears to be the latest step in the government's reaction to the horrific Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar in December.

Sadly, authorities have since turned to the death penalty in a knee-jerk reaction to try to combat "terrorism." By expanding the scope of the death penalty further and opening up for executions of non-terror convicts, Pakistan is making the same mistake we see many governments repeating - using the death penalty as a quick-fix solution to tackling crime, when in reality there is no evidence to support this claim.

What evidence are you basing this statement on?

There is no evidence whatsoever to support that the death penalty works as a particular deterrent to crime compared to other forms of punishment.

This is something that has been confirmed in multiple studies, including by the UN, across different regions. More killings will do nothing to combat crime or terrorism in Pakistan; it only perpetuates a cycle of violence.

The government should instead focus on ensuring that civilians are granted the protection they need from attacks by armed groups, in particular in the north-west of the country and other conflict-hit regions, where deadly violence is a daily reality.

There is also a desperate need to tackle flaws in the criminal justice system, and to strengthen law enforcement as reports of rights abuses by police and other security forces are all too common.

What impact will the decision have on Pakistan's international standing?

Pakistan has already put 24 people to death since December, and with thousands more lives at risk this has rightly provoked an outcry. There is significant pressure on Pakistan to end this killing spree immediately - not just from national and global human rights groups, but also from international actors including the European Union.

The death penalty was actually one human rights issue that Pakistan could point to genuine progress on until last year. This was an opportunity for Pakistan to set an example on human rights in its immediate neighborhood, which makes the resumption of executions all the more disappointing.

Pakistan Taliban-Überfall auf Schule in Peshawar 16.12.2014

'The move appears to be the latest step in the government's reaction to the horrific Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014'

There is also a clear global trend of moving away from the death penalty - Pakistan is inevitably casting itself in a bad light by joining the small minority of countries that still execute around the world.

What do you urge the government to do?

Pakistan should immediately re-impose a moratorium on executions for all crimes, with a view to eventually abolishing the death penalty. The death penalty is always a human rights violation, but its use in Pakistan is all the more troubling given the serious fair trial concerns there.

In particular, in anti-terror courts, judgments are often rushed through, and "confessions" extracted through torture presented as evidence.

David Griffiths is Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific Director.