UN Calls on Pakistan to 'Definitively Halt' Execution of Shafqat Hussain, Convicted as a Child

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UN Calls on Pakistan to 'Definitively Halt' Execution of Shafqat Hussain, Convicted as a Child

LONDON - The United Nations has called on Pakistan to permanently halt the planned execution of Shafqat Hussain, and to carry out ‘serious investigations into all cases of children in death row across the country’.

In a statement released Friday (March 20th) the UN's group of human rights experts said: ‘International law, accepted as binding in Pakistan, is clear: it is unlawful to execute someone who was under 18 years old when they allegedly committed a crime’ and said ‘we continue to call on the Pakistani authorities definitively to halt [Shafqat's] execution’.

Shafqat, who was convicted aged 14 solely on the basis of a forced ‘confession’ following 9 days of police torture, was granted a stay on Wednesday evening just hours before his execution was due to go ahead. There have since been reports that the stay has been extended from 72 hours to 30 days, but no official confirmation has yet been received.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had in January announced that he would conduct an inquiry into Shafqat’s age at conviction and the torture to which he was subjected, but neither Shafqat’s family nor his lawyers were ever contacted in relation to any inquiry; had they been they could have provided extensive evidence of his age, including his birth certificate. That evidence has now been submitted to the Ministry of the Interior.

There are over 8000 people on Pakistan’s death row and a recent report from human rights charities Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan revealed that more than 800 of these could have been convicted as children. The UN’s statement said that 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.’

Also on Friday, a group of prominent child rights organisations – including Child Rights International Network and Penal Reform International - wrote to Minister Nisar urging him to conduct an inquiry into Shafqat’s case that is ‘thorough, independent and meet[s] international standards’. The letter urges the Interior Ministry to use ‘a collection of any available documentary evidence’ to determine Shafqat’s age.

Pakistan lifted its moratorium on the death penalty in December of last year. Since March 10th, when the government widened the remit of the lifted moratorium from only terrorism cases, 27 people have been executed and 40 have been scheduled for the next week.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “The UN’s outrage over Shafqat’s planned execution is absolutely justified. Not only has the Interior Minister failed to contact Shafqat’s family or his lawyers for the birth certificate that would prove his age, but he has not even had the basic decency to let Shafqat know when the government plans to kill him. In the interests of justice and common humanity Pakistan must permanently halt this execution - and all others - while they work out who on death row was convicted as a child, and whose convictions are based on torture evidence.”

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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.

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