GENEVA (20 March 2015) – A group of United Nations human rights experts* took note with relief of the last-minute decision by the Pakistani authorities to postpone for 72 hours the execution of a Shafqat Hussain who was convicted as a minor, and was due to be hanged yesterday, but said the problem is far from solved.
Just hours before Shafqat Hussain’s execution was to take place, Pakistan granted a stay of execution. The authorities also announced an inquiry into his age at the time he was convicted, and on the alleged torture he suffered during his interrogation.
“We welcome the decision delaying Mr. Hussain’s execution, but we continue to call on the Pakistani authorities definitively to halt his execution,” said the UN experts on arbitrary executions, torture and the Chair of the Committee on the rights of the child.
“Putting him through the ongoing agony of not knowing whether he may be executed in the next few days is cruel and one cannot help but wonder why a – seemingly – rushed inquiry into his age is only now being conducted,” they noted. “Pakistan should carry out serious investigations into all cases of children in death row across the country.”
Mr. Hussain was 14 years old when he was arrested in connection with the disappearance of a young boy. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death for kidnapping and involuntary manslaughter. His confessions were obtained after he was reportedly tortured over a period of nine days by police officers after his arrest in 2004.
According to human rights groups, more than 8,000 people are on death row in Pakistan. Out of this number, several hundred may have been sentenced for crimes they committed as children. Last week, Muhammad Afza, who reportedly was 16 at the time of the offense, was executed despite several calls by human rights groups.
“International law, accepted as binding by Pakistan, is clear: it is unlawful to execute someone who was under 18 years old when they allegedly committed a crime” the human rights experts stated.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, the experts noted, guarantees the inherent right of every child to life, and provides that neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by minors.
“This execution, if carried out, will be clearly contrary to the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture, which Pakistan has accepted as binding law,” they stressed.
The independent experts deplored that Mr. Hussain also reportedly did not receive a fair trial at the time. The state-appointed lawyer, for instance, never raised the fact that he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged offence.
Since reversing the death penalty moratorium in December 2014, 48 people have been executed across the country. Human rights groups reported that on 18 March, nine murder convicts were executed in six prisons of Pakistan, a day after 12 executions took place, the largest number of people executed on the same day.
“We reiterate our recommendation to the Government of Pakistan reinstate the death penalty moratorium. In the meanwhile, it would be a blot on the name of the country to execute Shafqat Hussein or anyone else who are accused of having committed a crime as a juvenile,” the human rights experts stressed.
(*) The experts: Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Kirsten Sandberg, current Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Child.