Why is Pakistan the fifth largest executioner in the world? Why are non-terrorists the ones being executed? What is the real justification for lifting the moratorium on the death penalty? The government of Pakistan owes us an explanation. Pakistan was asked the same questions by the United Nations Human Rights Committee last week in Geneva, as the country’s commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was under review for the first time. Ambassador Farukh Amil, a member of Pakistan’s delegation at the UN review, seemed woefully unprepared to answer the questions posed by the Human Rights Committee on the death penalty. Despite several members of the committee repeatedly asking for an explanation for Pakistan’s misuse of capital punishment, the Pakistani delegation did not have an adequate answer. Ambassador Amil repeatedly asserted that the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted because of a ‘national consensus’ in the wake of the Army Public School (APS) attack in Peshawar. It is true that executions — only for terrorism-related crimes — were re-established following an All Parties’ Conference the day after the terrorist attack in Peshawar. That conference was specifically called to deliberate on the issue of tackling militancy and terrorism in the country. It wasn’t until a few months later that the government decided to execute non-terrorists. Assuming that a consensus of political parties represents a true ‘national consensus’, was there a consensus on resuming the death penalty for all 27 death eligible crimes? Did the political parties agree that those engaged with drug trafficking, having sexual relationships outside of marriage, or blasphemy deserve to be punished by death? I find that hard to believe. Furthermore, as the committee members rightly pointed out, Pakistan is not executing terrorists. As highlighted in Justice Project Pakistan’s recent report, Counting Executions, Pakistan has executed one person every two days since the moratorium was lifted. Only 16 percent of those executions have been through Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs). The vast majority have been through ordinary criminal courts that do not have jurisdiction over terrorism-related offences. Therefore, ordinary criminals, predominantly in Punjab, make up most of the executions. If we aren’t executing terrorists, then how is Pakistan continuing to justify its use of the death penalty? Pakistan has executed juveniles and mentally-ill prisoners and the Pakistani delegation could not provide a single case where the president granted clemency to someone on death row Even among those sentenced to death by ATCs, the majority are not terrorists. Because of the overly broad definition of terrorism in Pakistani law and the lack of fair trial procedures, ATCs have tried and sentenced those who have no relationship to terrorism or terrorist organisations. For instance, an ATC sentenced a man to death for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook. In the trial court judgment, the judge held that “the recovery (from the accused’s wallet) of Irani Riyals and a currency note of (a United States) dollar shows that he has links with some banned religious organisation.” I have a US dollar bill in my wallet and that does not make me a terrorist. During the review, the Human Rights Committee pointed out that the ICCPR does not mandate that the death penalty be abolished entirely. Given the issues over the use of ATCs and military courts, a complete moratorium on the death penalty might be ideal. However, the Committee repeatedly empathised with Pakistan’s attempts to combat terrorism in the country. They insisted that Pakistan has a duty to protect itself. However, they said that this duty must be carried out within certain safeguards. In particular, the committee was concerned that Pakistan has not been using the death penalty as an exceptional measure which the ICCPR requires. As one committee member pointed out, Pakistan has ‘gone over the limit’ in its use of the death penalty. Pakistan has executed juveniles and mentally ill prisoners and the Pakistani delegation could not provide a single case where the president granted clemency to someone on death row. Another Committee member stated that the death penalty is being applied in a manner that constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment because “protocols and procedures are not being meticulously observed.” She cited problems such as a shortage of executioners which has led to ordinary prison staff carrying out botched executions. The Human Rights Committee wanted Pakistan to engage in a constructive dialogue over Pakistan’s use of the death penalty and have an open discussion regarding the problems that Pakistan has faced in implementing capital punishment. Instead, the delegation stated that it will provide a written response to the Committee on the questions that it could not answer in person. Unlike the written report that Pakistan submitted to the Human Rights Committee, we cannot allow this response to be four years late. The writer is a J.D. student at Yale Law School and a summer intern at Justice Project Pakistan, a human rights law firm in Lahore Published in Daily Times, July 24th 2017.