Pakistan and the Rights of the Child
On 24-25 May, the Government of Pakistan was reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, regarding its implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 1990, Pakistan became the sixth country in the world to ratify the UN Convention following its adoption by the General Assembly in 1989. However, since the ratification there has been little to celebrate in the country as Pakistan has consistently failed to deliver upon its obligations to its children.
The delegation tasked with presenting Pakistan’s fifth periodic report was headed by Mr. Zafarullah Khan, the Special Adviser for State on Law. Amongst the many grave issues raised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the executions of juvenile offenders since the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty seemed to occupy centre-stage. The Committee noted with concern that despite the existence of the Juvenile Justice System’s Ordinance 2000, a law prohibiting the executions of juveniles, the Government of Pakistan executed at least 5 juveniles since December 2014. The Committee additionally noted that it had not heard of any cases of juvenile offenders being granted pardon by the President of Pakistan under Article 45 of the Constitution.
Addressing the members of the delegation from the Ministry of Human Rights, the Committee asserted that they expected the Ministry of Human Rights to at the very least be working to decrease the number of offences that carry the death penalty in Pakistan. The current total stands at an alarming 27 offences that include non-lethal crimes like blasphemy, drug trafficking and kidnapping. As an illustration of Pakistan’s failure to abide by its obligations towards juvenile offenders the Committee specifically raised the case of Muhammad Anwar – a juvenile offender who has been on death row for over 23 years. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is set to hear a Petition in Anwar’s case that asks for an inquiry into his juvenility and therefore a revision of death sentence. Despite reassurances given by the delegation at the Review session that they will ensure that justice is done in this individual case, no steps have been taken to provide any relief to Anwar and his family.
Anwar was arrested in 1993 when a fight between twenty people resulted in the death of one. Anwar was represented by a court appointed lawyer who failed to conduct requisite cross-examinations of the witnesses with the result that his co-accused were acquitted and he was sentenced to death for murder in 1998. Muhammad was born on 28 December 1975 and his birth is substantiated local government record, thereby making him 17 at the time of the occurrence alleged offence.
In 2000 Pakistan enacted the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance which was designed to bring Pakistan’s juvenile justice system in line with international human rights law. Section 12 of the JJSO explicitly prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on anyone under 18 years of age at the time of the offence. Since the law was not enacted retroactively, in 2001 the Ministry of Interior issued a notification whereby all juvenile offenders convicted prior to 2000 would be granted an automatic pardon by the President under the Constitution. Subsequently the Supreme Court decided that the benefit of this Notification would be conditional upon a determination of age conducted by a Sessions Court.
For the past 15 years, Anwar’s family has approached several forums including the Sessions Court, the Home Department, the Supreme Court Human Rights Cell and the Presidency to seek a determination of his juvenility only to be turned away. During this time, Muhammad has languished on death row – having now served almost 23 years in prison, far longer than he would have served if his sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment. On 19th December 2015, he also come within 24 hours of his execution, simply because no-one has taken responsibility for making a final decision in the case.
During his time in prison, Muhammad has developed severe heart problems, which were first diagnosed in 2009. As a result of these problems he suffers from loss of movement in the left side of his body, and has severely limited mobility
Muhammad Anwar’s case represents major flaws inherent under Pakistan’s death penalty, particularly with regards to its lack of safeguards for juvenile offenders. The Pakistani Government made several reassurances last month in Geneva before the Committee on the Rights of the Child to strengthen its commitment to juvenile justice reform and the implementation of safeguards. Muhammad Anwar approaches his 24th year on death row and may face execution. Will the Government of Pakistan finally deliver on its promises made at international forums or will they be forgotten for the next four years till the next UN review?