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Jordan; Pakistan; United Nations: Experts Warn Against Death Penalty Resumptions

(Jan. 2, 2015) United Nations human rights experts have recently warned of the dangers of the use of the death penalty, even in terrorism cases. The warning was prompted by the resumption of the imposition of capital punishment in Jordan and the end of the moratorium on the practice in Pakistan. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized that “no judiciary, anywhere, can be infallible,” and added that “[i]t is very unfortunate that Pakistan and Jordan have resumed executions, reversing the moratoria on the death penalty that they had commendably put in place in 2008 and 2006 respectively.” (UN Rights Chief Urges Return to Moratorium as Executions Resume in Pakistan, Jordan, UN NEWS CENTRE (Dec. 22, 2014); UN Rights Experts Alarmed at Resumption of Death Penalty by States for Terrorist Acts, UN NEWS CENTRE (Dec. 23, 2014) (locate by title under “Human Rights.”).)


Jordan’s Ministry of the Interior announced that on December 21, 2014, 11 people were executed; this is the first imposition of the death penalty in the country in eight years and was done by hanging. Those executed, all citizens of Jordan, had been convicted of murder from 2005 to 2006. (Bradley McAllister, Jordan Reinstates Capital Punishment After Eight Years, PAPER CHASE (Dec. 21, 2014).) Since 2006, although a number of prisoners were given death sentences, Jordan’s King Abdullah II had not signed any execution orders. He had said in 2005 that there was the possibility that the criminal law would be changed and capital punishment eliminated. (Id.)


In the wake of the recent Pakistani Taliban killing of 148 people at a school, the country’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has announced the end of the unofficial moratorium on executions for non-military personnel. The death penalty will now be available as a punishment in “terrorism-related cases.” (UN Rights Experts Alarmed at Resumption of Death Penalty by States for Terrorist Acts, supra.) There are currently plans to execute about 500 convicts who have used all their possible appeals (id.), and on December 19, 2014, two individuals were executed. Their crimes were not related to the recent school attack; one was sentenced to death for an attempt to assassinate former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf and the other for involvement in an attack in 2009 on the country’s army headquarters. (Pakistan Resumes Executions After Peshawar School Attack, BBC NEWS (Dec. 19, 2014).)

According to Christof Heyns, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary execution, there is a risk that the authorities in Pakistan may impose capital punishment too broadly. He noted that “[t]he definition of acts of terrorism in the Pakistani legislation remains very vague. Hundreds of people charged with such acts are at risk of being executed,” and added that he asked “Pakistan to continue the moratorium on actual executions and to put in place a legal moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its abolition.” (UN Rights Experts Alarmed at Resumption of Death Penalty by States for Terrorist Acts, supra.)