World Day against death penalty

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Jean-François Cautain
This year, seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, worldwide abolition of the death penalty is closer to a reality than ever. More and more nations around the world are realising that abolition of death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of a society’s human rights. It is a well-documented fact that the death penalty has failed as a deterrent, anytime and anywhere.

Almost three quarters (143 countries) of the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Last year in only 11.5% of the total number of countries of the world, people were executed.

Despite a global positive trend towards abolition, death row prisoners continue to represent the most marginalised layers of a society. They become the incarnation of inequalities and cease to exist even before their execution. Just as if they did not belong to humanity.

Prisoner Z represents that demonised human being who features in the upcoming performance No Time to Sleep livestreamed on Dawn.com, starting midnight on 10 October the World Day against the Death Penalty .

No Time to Sleep intensely portrays the last 24 hours of a death row prisoner before his execution. Played by Sarmad Khoosat, Prisoner Z’s journey is based on the true story of Zulfiqar Ali Khan whose execution was stayed 20 times during the 17 years he spent in the death row.

Taking a life is cruel in all circumstances. No matter the reason, no matter the cause. It reveals weakness and not strength. Even before their executions, the sole living conditions of the people sentenced take away their dignity. Evidences around the world also tell us that capital punishment put innocent lives at risk and impact their families too. It is moreover a marker of social inequality as it affects the most deprived who cannot afford a fair legal representation. The work of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in that regard is revealing with 85 % of capital cases reviewed, the conviction was found erroneous, based on faulty, incomplete or fabricated evidence..

As partners and friends the European Union and Pakistan have had numerous political discussions on the issue of the death penalty since the lifting of the moratorium in 2014. Within such dialogues, the EU always voices its strong principled opposition to the death penalty as a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, violating the right to life, while not deterring crime more effectively.

We also have an additional framework of dialogue with Pakistan on the issue of death penalty during our discussions on the GSP+ scheme. Granted in 2014 at the request of Pakistan, this specific bilateral partnership scheme links the free access of Pakistani exports to the European market to the enforcement of human and labour rights’ international conventions.. While the abolition of death penalty is not per se among the 27 international conventions linked to GSP+ , the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified and signed by Pakistan stipulates that capital punishment is only applied in the case of most “serious crimes” and the result of a due legal process.

We as EU acknowledge the sensitivity of the matter and the circumstances behind the decision to lift the moratorium in 2014. We do understand that changing public opinion takes time and commitment. While Pakistan accounts for 13% of all global executions it is a welcome and positive sign to witness that executions have also dropped from 325 in 2015 to 87 in 2016, to 44 in 2017 and to 10 this year.

It is also very positive that, as we understand, Pakistan is in the process of reviewing the prospects of reducing the number of the offences which grant death penalty, and it is positive that in the future the rational exercise of the power of pardon and mercy might be used by the President.

I sincerely hope that the new Pakistan will soon rejoin the majority of world’s countries that de jure or de facto considers the death penalty as an instrument of the past.

(The writer is the Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan.)