ISLAMABAD: At least 10pc of the current death row population consists of juvenile offenders, a report on the juvenile justice system launched on Friday has found. In addition, it revealed that is unclear whether the juvenile justice ordinance applies to anti-terrorism legislation, and that over 60pc of government-issued identification documents are deemed unreliable by courts, making it impossible for defendants to provide their age.
The report, titled ‘Death Row’s Children – Pakistan’s Unlawful Executions of Juvenile Offenders’ was prepared by the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP).
The fundamental weaknesses of the country’s juvenile justice system, including inadequate legislative protections, scant birth registration and a lack of age determination protocols have led to countless juveniles being sentenced to death and executed, it said.
The report is dedicated to Aftab Bahadur, whose photograph is on its cover. Bahadur was executed last year after being convicted of murder.
Pakistan has enacted legislation, specifically the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000, which prohibits the sentencing and imposition of the death penalties against anyone who commits a crime before turning 18 – otherwise known as juvenile offenders.
Report on executions of juvenile offenders was launched on Friday
But, the report said, since its enactment the ordinance has been marred by a lack of implementation and political will, and successive government have failed to fulfil its provisions.
The report found that at least 10pc of the current death row population consists of juvenile offenders – around 800.
JPP’s analysis found that due to a lack of age determination methods, where age is assessed simply by physical appearance and not medically, judges do not follow a consistent pattern in adjudicating juvenility pleas.
Contrary to international standards, the benefit of the doubt is never accorded to the suspect, and judges inevitably rely upon whatever evidence does not favour the suspect.
Lawyers and human rights activists at the launch were also informed that identification documents issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) were not accepted by courts to determine age. According to the report, over 60pc of government-issued identity documents were deemed unreliable by courts, making it impossible for defendants to prove their age.
However, the report said, what is more worrying is the lack of clarity on whether the ordinance applies to anti-terrorism legislation.
Under section 32 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the act is granted overriding effect over all laws currently in force.
Participants at the launch were also informed that despite flagrant violations of Pakistan’s international legal commitments, state representatives insist that juvenile offenders are accorded their rights.
Speakers noted that in May last year, the Pakistan delegation told the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that “no child has been awarded [the] death penalty and no defendant is currently on death row”.
According to JPP’s report, the executions of Aftab Bahadur – accused of murdering a woman and her two children, Shafqat Hussain – accused of murdering a seven year old, Ansar Iqbal – accused of murdering a neighbour, Mohammad Sarfraz – convicted of murder and sentenced, Faisal Mehmood and Mohammad Amin – also convicted of murders, all juveniles at the time of arrest and later hung to death, prove this claim to be false.
All the convicts were hung recently, after Pakistan lifted a six year de-facto moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014.
The report says that Bahadur was 15 when he was arrested in 1992 and was hung in 2015, after 23 years in prison. Iqbal was convicted at the age of 14 and executed 29 years later, in 2015. Sarfraz was 17 when convicted and executed in 2016 after 22 years on death row.
Mehmood was convicted at the age of 15, and Hussain was convicted at the age of 14 – both were executed in 2015.
The key speaker at the launch, MNA Asad Umer, said: “Below a certain age, you cannot be held accountable for the decisions that you make. 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 ordinance, Mr Umer expressed shock that a legally binding presidential order was being violated.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said the issues highlighted in the report posed an urgent need to address the low rates of birth registration and implement age determination protocols.
Giving examples of the “broken down” criminal justice system, Mr Babar recalled the case of two brothers who were acquitted by the Supreme Court a year after they were executed.
Mr Babar added that the number of crimes punishable by death – there are currently 27 – should be reduced.
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2017