October 13th, 2020 

By Asra Haque 


“There is no scientific evidence that suggests that capital punishment effectively deters crimes. Rather, it is the certainty of getting caught and being punished for committing an offence that discourages potential culprits,” said Ambassador of the European Union (EU) to Pakistan, Ms. Androulla Kaminara. Kaminara was speaking at an event for the World Day against the Death Penalty which falls on October 10.

Kaminara’s statements reiterated the findings of long-standing studies on the subject, that have concluded that the incidence of crime, especially serious offences such as homicide, were higher in countries that carried out capital punishment as compared to countries that have abolished it for all crimes. The research contained in these studies found that abolishing the death penalty coincided with strengthened rule of law, increasing the probability as well as the certainty of offenders committing a crime and therefore deterring them from offending a second time, or in the first place.

This is no chain of coincidence – in the absence of severe penalties for severe offences, a government has greater motive to improve the implementation of existing law, investigative practices of the police and the justice system in order to ensure that offenders are awarded due punishment and the public remains content.

However, in countries where violence pervades culture and societal norms, it is difficult to convince the general public that cruelty cannot be dissuaded by responding to it in kind.

Even with the death penalty, heinous offences such as murder and rape continue to plague the country’s citizens, especially its women and children.

Following the rape and murder of five-year old Marwah in Karachi on September 6, and then the Lahore-Sialkot motorway gang rape incident which transpired merely a few days later on September 10, there was much talk of doling out punishment of the severest degree to the offenders in the incidents – but with the death penalty already in place, how much crueler could the punishment have been?

There is now an increasing demand by the public as well as several of the country’s lawmakers to hang culprits in heinous crimes in view of the general populace, a call that has been met with grave concern by rights advocates and civil society members who understand that making a spectacle out of death will only facilitate aggression and violence within society. Furthermore, given the high incidence of innocents being punished by hanging, due to a severely deficient police and justice system, such barbaric acts will accomplish no good for society.

A total of 106 nations have imposed a ban on capital punishment for civilian and military crimes, with the Republic of Chad and Kazakhstan being the most recent nation states to do so this year. Twenty-eight countries have banned it in practice, in that they have not carried out any executions in the last decade or more and have a policy of not carrying out executions (according to Amnesty International standards). Seven countries have abolished it in law and in practice and have not carried out any executions in the last 14 or more years. However, the sentence is retained for exceptional circumstances, such as crimes committed during wartime.

Fifty four countries, including Pakistan, retain the death penalty in law and in practice. Pakistan had placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2008, with only one execution taking place in 2012, but had lifted it in late 2014 after the Army Public School tragedy.

From 2014 to 2019, a total of 513 people have been executed in the country. Although no one has been executed so far this year, Pakistan possesses the world’s largest death row population, with over 4,225 inmates awaiting execution according to Amnesty International. Moreover, Pakistan is signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which forbid such cruel punishments to offenders.