UN human rights chief calls on Pakistan to halt executions

Islamabad, Pakistan (Reprieve) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has issued a sharp condemnation of Pakistan’s execution of more than 150 people this year – including that of Aftab Bahadur, who was hanged yesterday despite evidence of his innocence.

In a statement released moments ago, the UN’s human rights chief urged the Government of Pakistan to reintroduce its moratorium on the death penalty, saying “No justice system in the world is infallible… Yesterday’s execution of Aftab Bahadur, who was only 15 when he was convicted of a murder 23 years ago, and whose claims that he was tortured into confessing were unheeded, suggests a very troubling approach to the use of the death penalty in the country. Reports indicate that two witnesses who testified against Bahadur recanted their testimony, but were simply ignored”.

Over 150 people have been executed in Pakistan since December, human rights organization Reprieve revealed last week; a milestone that, Mr Al Hussein noted, makes Pakistan “the third most prolific executioner in the world.” The commissioner said he was “very disturbed” that the response of the Pakistani authorities to the shooting at a school in Peshawar in December had been “to execute just as many people in the six months that have passed since.”

He added: “The idea that mass executions would deter the kinds of heinous crimes committed in Peshawar in December is deeply flawed and misguided, and it risks compounding injustice.”

More than 8,000 people remain on death row in Pakistan, Mr Al Hussein noted. Research by Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan has found that as many as 1000 may have been juveniles at the time of their arrest.

A girl studying in Pakistan's flooded area. Image Source: srizki, Flickr, creative commons

A girl studying in Pakistan’s flooded area.
Image Source: srizki, Flickr, creative commons

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“Aftab Bahadur’s execution yesterday morning – despite his juvenility, the use of torture to secure his conviction, and strong evidence of his innocence – was a shameful moment for criminal justice everywhere, and one that should never be repeated. All the more shocking is there are many more potential Aftabs on death row in Pakistan, whose lives are at imminent risk. The Pakistani authorities should heed this call from the UN – the killing of yet more innocent people will only bring further injustice, and must be halted without delay.”