by Beena Sarwar
The late Dorab Patel, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of
Pakistan used to say that if he had to be a judge again, he would
never award the death penalty. His reasons: human fallibility and
faulty legal systems that discriminate against the poor. As he
emphasised, a human life once taken, could never be brought back.
Justice Patel, who resigned from office in 1981 in protest at the
military rule of Gen. Ziaul Haq, was a founding member of the Human
Rights Commission of Pakistan. The HRCP, like other credible
international organisations like Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch, took a stand that reinforces the principled position
against the death penalty. The HRCP, in its first convention in 1986,
passed three resolutions: hold elections, abolish the separate
electorate system, and abolish the death penalty.
Unfortunately, Pakistan remains among the 62 countries that continue
to retain and use the death penalty, compared to the 135 that have
abolished this punishment in law or practice. The HRCP in its report
Slow march to gallows (2007) records a staggering number of prisoners
awaiting execution in Pakistan: over 7,400 men and 36 women. Most are
poor. Some were under-age at the time of the alleged crime. Pakistan
was among the six countries (along with China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and
the USA) that accounted for 91 per cent of the 1,591 executions
reported in 25 states in 2006, according to Amnesty.
The death penalty does not deter crime more than other punishments,
notes Amnesty. The homicide rate has fallen by 40 per cent since 1975
in Canada, where the death penalty for murder was abolished in 1976.
On December 18, 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution—by
a wide margin—on a worldwide moratorium on executions. The resolution
has since been opposed and the debate will continue in the session
this September. Continue reading