December 16, 1971 was a dark day in the history of Pakistan; when the country broke into two and Bangladesh happened as a result of being treated as a colony by the West Pakistan.
That was one dark day, and on December 16, 2014, came another; the darkness intensified when little innocent children were confronted with the worst nightmare of their lives. The demons of death barged into their school and silenced many of them forever, while scarring the souls of many others for life.
The country was shocked. It still is. There is deep resentment and anger within the society at the sheer barbarity of the act. However, anger has a way of deluding our sight and dimming the line between right and wrong. It is exactly this that is happening to most of us; we are being lured by feelings of revenge and demand the public executions of all those who are on death penalty, irrespective of whether these will end the threat of militancy.
Take a look: A slippery slope
Article 14(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
"Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law.”
Rushing convicts to death without allowing them to exhaust all appeals represents a breakdown of law and process. The substantive laws, no matter how just, cannot ensure justice. They are dependent on the procedural laws in order to be fully materialised in spirit. Where the procedure breaks down or is rather conveniently overlooked, all the substantive laws are reduced to mere carcasses.
The pictures of hanged persons are already going viral on web in violation of further international norms. The state must adhere to law and be reticent before carrying out draconian sentences – rather than appease a public demand for blood. If we demand blood in return for blood, then what is the difference between us and those demons that attacked our children’s school?
Also read: It wasn’t the final atrocity
If we are all on the same pedestal, then I have no doubt that this country is going to the dogs and will be caught up in a vicious cycle, which, with each swirl, will pull us deeper into this abyss. We are caught up in this cycle because of ineffective institutions and policies, not because demons landed on Pakistan from outer space.
The way forward from here is to realise that we are reaping what we have sown in the past and that we need to uproot the problem rather than exact revenge on individuals who are not even remotely connected to these groups.
One such individual is Shafqat Hussain, who has been convicted for involuntary manslaughter solely based on his confession, which he made after being tortured and burnt with cigarettes. He was 14 years old back then. After the lifting of the moratorium on death, his execution has been scheduled for December 23, 2014.
Ironically, Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (that we have ratified with reservations) states:
"Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”
Read on: Fade to black
Our constitution glorifies the fundamental rights of individuals. Article 10 talks about the right to a fair trial and how every individual shall be “entitled to a fair trial and due process.”
'Due process' – this is a concept unknown in the dictionary of the terrorists; they are the judge, jury and executioner. By demanding the spilling of more blood, we replicate the actions of the terrorists. We conveniently brush aside the principles of justice and equity. We overlook the fact that Pakistan has ratified 27 human rights conventions and that we cannot arbitrarily ignore our obligations in letter and spirit. We, as a nation, demand an immediate solution without recognising the fact that the menace took decades to become the monster that we confront today; therefore, it will take long-term reforms and policies to slowly uproot the terrorist elements in our society.
As a new lawyer, I envision that one way of putting back our country on the track of progress and prosperity is to strengthen our judicial system and ensure the due process of law amongst others. It is no secret that this would take years of struggle.
Amidst this background, the lifting off of the moratorium on death penalty should raise alarm bells rather than being embraced. In quick fix attempts, we are adopting regressive measures rather than going ahead like the rest of the world.
And who are we threatening with the death sentence? Those who believe embracing death after unleashing violence on innocent grants a direct ticket to heaven? Behind such a backdrop, who is the real loser? It is the society.
When a society sanctions the way for human rights violations, it ends up becoming a breeding ground for more violence. When one innocent man ends up facing the brunt of death penalty because of the weak judicial system, the frustration levels within society rise and it serves the cause of terrorists, not ours.
Moreover, a 2014 report by the Justice Project Pakistan and Reprieve states that, “over 800 prisoners on death row in Pakistan were tried as ‘terrorists’, though in cases as much as 88 per cent, there was no link to anything that can reasonably be defined as ‘terrorism.’”
We do not want to make our country an orgy of blood. Let us channel our anger into something constructive, meaningful and long lasting. Let us not pass down the legacy of revenge, blood and hatred to our children. Let us give them the values of peace, love and justice. They are the future of our country. Let us make them inspirational men rather than blood thirsty beasts. The country has paid too heavy a price till now in terms of its soul assassination. Let us put an end to this all.
Our only savior is justice and the due process of law.