South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in on Jan. 12 ::

The Obama administration should press Pakistan’s government to address both new and longstanding human rights problems, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry. On January 14, 2015, Kerry will meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other senior policymakers during the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

“A serious rollback in human rights in Pakistan has been under way since the horrific attack last month on a Peshawar school,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “The US-Pakistan dialogue is a good opportunity for Kerry to press the Pakistan government not to sacrifice basic human rights and fair trials in the name of confronting terrorism.”

The government’s response to the Peshawar school attack on December 16, 2014, has included a constitutional amendment allowing the prosecution of civilian terrorism suspects in military courts. The government has sought to justify the measure as a means to ensure “the speedy trial of terrorists.” Yet, as many Pakistani lawyers and judges have pointed out, Pakistan’s civilian courts are capable of handling terrorism cases so long as law enforcement authorities do their job, including conducting professional investigations and providing protection to witnesses.

The Pakistan government’s accelerating and injudicious impositions of the death penalty have also raised serious due process concerns. On December 17 Sharif rescinded a four-year unofficial moratorium on capital punishment for non-military personnel “in terrorism related cases,” instituted by then-President Asif Ali Zardari in 2008. The Pakistani government has executed at least nine people following the school attack and there are reports that the government intends to execute dozens, and possibly hundreds more in the coming weeks. In one such case, Shafqat Hussain, who was 14 or 15 when sentenced in 2004 for kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old boy, faces execution on January 14, 2015, despite reports that the government had delayed his death warrant pending an official inquiry into the case. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and irrevocable punishment.

“Secretary Kerry should make it clear to Pakistani leaders that trying civilians before military courts and going on a death penalty spree is contrary to international law and could harm Pakistan’s international reputation,” Kine said. “Rights-rejecting responses to militant atrocities are counterproductive and will only fuel more militant abuses.”