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UN experts urge Pakistan not to execute juveniles

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 binging 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.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns (South Africa), is a director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa and Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, where he has also directed the Centre for Human Rights, and has engaged in wide-reaching initiatives on human rights in Africa. He has advised a number of international, regional and national entities on human rights issues. As Special Rapporteur, Mr. Heyns is independent from any government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan E. Méndez (Argentina), has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. As Special Rapporteur, Mr. Méndez is independent from any government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity.  Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

Kirsten Sandberg (Norway) is the current Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Child. Ms. Sandberg is a specialist on Child Law and a Professor at the Department of Public and International Law at Oslo University. As one of the 18 members of the Committee on the Rights of Child, she is independent from any government or organisation and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/CRCIndex.aspx  

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Pakistan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/PKIndex.aspx  

For more information and media requests, please contact Johel Dominique (+41 22 928 93 98 / jdominique@ohchr.org) or write to eje@ohchr.org

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