"A system rigged against the very people it sought to protect."
Around 10 % of Pakistan's death row convicts are feared to be juvenile offenders, who have been sentenced to death in a clear violation of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000 (JJSO) and the international obligations.
This has been claimed in a report titled 'Death Row's Children: Pakistan's Unlawful Executions of Juvenile Offenders', has been compiled by human rights law firm Justice Project Pakistan (JPP). The report was launched in Islamabad on Friday.
The study highlights the complete violation of JJSO's section 12 which prohibits "the sentencing of juvenile offenders to death, or labour during their imprisonment".
"In Pakistan despite prohibiting the sentencing and imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders, hundreds of suspected juvenile offenders have been put to death so far.
"Many of the alleged juveniles sentenced to death prior to the notification continue to be denied an inquiry into their claim of juvenility by provincial home departments and the courts," the report says.
According to the report, at least 6 juvenile offenders have been executed since December 2014 - when the government lifted a 6-year de facto moratorium on death penalty - despite credible evidence showing them to be underage at the time of the alleged crime.
The government has consistently maintained that no executions of juvenile offenders have taken place. However, juvenile offenders continue to be executed due to lack of implementation of protective safeguards and protocols particularly whilst conducting age determination investigations.
Challenges impeding course of juvenile justice
The report has attributed dismal lack of birth registrations in the country as one of the major reasons behind poor juvenile justice in Pakistan.
Pakistan is among the countries which have the lowest rate of birth registrations. It is estimated that there are nearly 10 million children - below the age of 5 years - who are currently unregistered. This figure is growing by nearly 3 million every year.
"Pakistan's failure to fulfill the right to birth registration for its children means that the criminal justice system is marred by a high risk of wrongful arrests, detention and executions of child offenders," says the report. It says juvenile suspects fail to produce any authentic documentation to prove their exact date of birth.
Resultantly, it becomes impossible for the police to determine the exact age of the juvenile and therefore they treat him just like adult prisoners. They are kept along with prisoners who are double or triple their age until a plea of juvenility is raised at the trial stage, it says.
Furthermore juveniles, who lack proper documentation, find it almost impossible to challenge the arbitrary assessments. "An absence of comprehensive guidance on how and when to determine age of an accused person has marred a significant number of trials of juvenile offenders with confusion."
When contacted, an official of the Ministry of Human Rights - while requesting anonymity - said, "It is just 1 example of violation of child rights law in Pakistan. However, there are several other such laws which are being violated everyday due to which children are becoming victim of cruelty and brutality."
During the launch event for the report on Friday, parliamentarians said that it highlighted an important issue which needs to be addressed immediately.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Asad Umar said that below a certain age, someone cannot be held accountable for their decisions and actions.
Noting how "deeply flawed Pakistan's criminal justice is", he said that the death penalty needs to be exercised with "extreme caution".
Senator Farhatullah Babar, who is also a member of the human rights' committee of the upper house, said there was a need to implement birth determining protocols to protect juvenile offenders.
He urged that the country should move from a security state to a welfare state.
Sarah Belal, the executive director of JPP said that the juvenile justice system did not do children any good if it appeared to be rigged against the very people it sought to protect.
State of juvenile prisoners on death row in Pakistan highlighted
Aftab Bahadur was sentenced to death, implicated in a triple murder case when he was a young man of 14 years of age. After languishing in the jail for 24 years he walked to the gallows on June 10, 2015, and was hanged by the neck till the time he was dead at the age of 38 years.
Outside the gate of the jail was the man, on whose testimony he was declared guilty of the crime, which he never committed, weeping bitterly and crying for mercy, pleading pardon for Aftab Bahadur, shouting that he gave a wrong statement under coercion.
All his wailing failed to prevent a 'judicial murder'! This was one of many more such cases we have seen in the history of Pakistan. Not many months ago the Supreme Court declared 2 persons, real brothers in fact, as innocent of the alleged murder for which they were awarded death sentence. They were acquitted of the crime they allegedly committed and orders were passed for their 'honourable release' from jail.
The release orders only got a response from the jail authorities that the 2 brothers have been hanged to death 2 years ago!
We have seen the number of executions jump to one of the highest in the world since the government of Pakistan lifted the moratorium on death penalty in the backdrop of the horrifying incident of terrorist strike on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar. However, as the result of lifting of the moratorium we have seen few terrorists being executed while a large number of other convicts have been taken to the gallows, as if the authorities were in too great a hurry to finish the job!
And we saw some juvenile prisoners also meeting the same fate in this execution spree.
The Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) engaged in efforts to restore the moratorium on death penalty, released 1 of its reports today (Friday) at a local hotel, highlighting the state of juvenile prisoners on death row in Pakistan.
It was a well attended launch and the participants included the members of the Parliament, both from the Lower as well as Upper House, diplomats based in Islamabad and a large number of people from different walks of life.
According to the press release issued by the JPP after the function the report launched on the occasion indicates that the juvenile justice system in Pakistan has failed to protect its juveniles from being sentenced to death. The report documents the fundamental weaknesses in the country's juvenile justice system including inadequate legislative protections, scant birth registration, and lack of age determination protocols that leads to countless juveniles being sentenced to death and eventually executed.
Speaking on the occasion the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf MNA, Asad Umar stated that "below a certain age, you cannot be held accountable for the decisions that you make." He added that the death penalty has to be exercised with "extreme caution" given how "deeply flawed Pakistan's criminal justice is."
Commenting on the lack of retrospective force of the Presidential Notification for the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), Mr Umar expressed his "complete shock and horror that a legally binding presidential order is being violated."
The PPP Senator, Mr Farhatullah Babar, while praising the report observed that, the issues highlighted in the report posed an urgent need for to address the low rates of birth registration as well as implementing age determination protocols to protect juvenile offenders. He also called for reducing the number of crimes punishable by death in Pakistan (currently 27). The Member of the Senate Committee on Human Rights said that while Pakistan is a security-driven society, it needs to strive to become a welfare-driven society, as guided by Article 38. Sen. Babar also advised that the findings of the report be shared with parliamentarians to sensitize them to the cause of human rights.
Commissioner, National Commission of Human Rights, Chaudhry Shafique questioned the point of the government ratifying international human rights treaties, if the judiciary was unwilling to implement the obligations contained in them.
Child Rights Commissioner Ms Farzana Bari and the parliamentarian Ms Nafisa Khattak, Shafqat Ali of the Ministry of Human Rights, activist Ms Valerie Khan, Director of Conflict Law Centre at the Research Society for International Law Oves Anwar, founder of SPARC, Mr Anees Jilani also spoke at the launch.
Like 160 countries in the world, Pakistan has enacted legislation, specifically the JJSO, prohibiting the sentencing and imposition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders - persons who commit crimes before turning eighteen years of age.
JPP has analyzed 140 reported cases, since the beginning of the operation of the JJSO in 2000 to 2016, wherein a plea of juvenility had been raised by an accused person. 4 different types of evidence were taken into account, including a statement under S. 342 of the Criminal Penal Code, medical evidence, birth certificates and school leaving certificates, noting where judges had placed reliance on each, and where they had rejected each.
The report revealed the executions of Aftab Bahadur, Shafqat Hussain, Ansar Iqbal, Muhammad Sarfraz, Faisal Mehmood and Muhammad Amin - all juveniles at the time of arrest - proves this claim to be blatantly false.
Zafarullah Khan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Law stated at the Pakistan's 5th periodic review at the UNCRC that "minors were tried under the Special Court Law, separately from majors." Yet, nearly 17 years after the JJSO was promulgated, the government has failed to install separate juvenile courts.
Ms Sarah Belal, the Executive Director of JPP said that the juvenile justice system does not do our children any good, if it appears to be rigged against the very people it seeks to protect. This report, and its findings underscore the urgent need to pass the pending Juvenile Justice System Bill so fewer minors will face the gallows.
Source: thenews.com.pk, February 18, 2017
⏩ Related article: Pakistan: Executing Children, February 16, 2017
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