Pakistan: Counter-terrorism measures, including use of torture and re-introduction of death penalty in violation of ICCPR

Published on 21 Jul 2017, 02:22 PM

Constant terrorist attacks have led Pakistan to adopt severe measures in violation of human rights. Photo credit: Indian Defence Review

The initial periodic report submitted by Pakistan was reviewed by the Human Rights Committee on the 11th and 12th of July 2017. According to the Head of the Pakistani delegation, the Government has taken a number of executive, legislative and judicial measures to ensure the enjoyment of civil and political rights in the country. Nevertheless, the Human Rights Committee has raised several concerns about serious human rights violations in law and in practice. The Committee members have addressed certain issues with special attention, such as the situation of refugees, the adoption of counter-terrorism measures, and the breaches to the right to security and the right to life. Among other serious challenges that affect the implementation of the Covenant in the country, the Committee discussed the discrimination against women, early marriages and child labour, the violations to the freedom of religion of minorities as well as threats against human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers. The webcast of the review is available here: part 1part 2 and part 3.

"We acknowledge the challenges we face in the context of an effective implementation of the Covenant such as our limited resources, [the need to] strengthen accountability and also to improve training and awareness raising in the field of human rights."

- Head of the Pakistani delegation

Right to security and right to life

Following the 2008 terrorist attacks in Peshawar, the moratorium on death penalty was lifted and this form of sanction was re-introduced in the country. Despite the State’s arguments that such measure derived from popular consensus, the Committee members raised concerns on the legal framework regulating death penalty in Pakistan, including the allegations of its application against juveniles and persons with mental disabilities. In particular, the Human Rights Committee emphasised that death penalty has not been applied as an exceptional measure and for ‘the most serious crimes’ in violation of the Covenant. In fact, executions have been carried out against people accused of drug related offences and blasphemy. According to figures raised by Committee members, out of the 351 executions that took place between 2008 and 2016, only 39 were applied to persons convicted of terrorism. The Committee also raised information on several cases of extrajudicial executions and honour killings, apart from the more than 1.000 cases of enforced disappearances that remain unresolved.

Counter-terrorism measures and use of torture

In view of the serious threat that terrorism allegedly presents to State party, the Protection of Pakistan Act was adopted in 2014 to regulate counter-terrorism measures and a National Action Plan to combat terrorism is also in place. Although the Committee recognises such initiatives and the challenges posed by terrorism for the security of individuals in the country, it has nonetheless raised issues on allegations of misuse of counter-terrorism measures by law enforcement agents. Torture is not criminalized according to international standards and there is no independent mechanism to investigate allegations of torture. With respect to prosecutions of terrorists by military courts, the Committee has expressed concerns regarding to the use of torture and ill-treatment in custody and for obtaining confessions, the use of preventive detentions and the passing of sentences against civilians by those courts. 


Pakistan hosts over one million refugees from different countries despite not having a national legal framework for the recognition of refugees and despite not being a State party to the 1951 Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Furthermore, there are currently more than 1 million displaced persons in the country. The Pakistani Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees participated of the review session and provided valuable information on the situation of Afghan victims of forced displacement. There are about 1.4 million Afghan registered refugees in Pakistan, whereas 600.000 of Afghan refugees remain to be registered. The Commissioner also pointed out that the Government has approved a repatriation strategy in 2017, and that the draft of a national refugee legislation is in process. Such law is expected to be passed by January 2018. The Human Rights Committee, however, has expressed concern in relation to the protection of refugees and displaced persons in Pakistan especially due to the high numbers of unregistered refugees, the harassment they face by law enforcement officials and alleged restrictions on their freedom of movement within the country.

Recommendations of the Committee

Within one year, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee’s Concluding Observations:

Death penalty

  • Reinstate the moratorium, and consider abolishing death penalty and acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
  • In case death penalty is maintained, ensure that:
    • Death penalty is provided only for the “most serious crimes", that it is never mandatory, that pardon or commutation of sentence is available, and that death penalty is never imposed in violation of the Covenant;
    • No person who was below 18 years of age at the time of offence is subjected to the death penalty, that those charged with a capital offence have access to an age determination process, and are treated as children in case of doubt;
    • No one with mental disabilities is sentenced to death, including by reviewing the mental health of death row inmates;
    • The execution protocol is in line with international standards and executions are carried out in accordance with it;
    • Pakistani migrant workers are provided with legal and consular services.


Enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings

  • Criminalise enforced disappearance and put an end to this practice and to secret detention;
  • Review the Actions (in aid of Civil Powers) Regulations 2011 with a view to repealing them or bringing them in conformity with international standards;
  • Ensure that all allegations of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings are investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished with appropriate penalties, and that victims’ families, lawyers and witnesses are protected;
  • Set up a mechanism for full and prompt reparation for victims and their families;
  • Strengthen the authority and capacity of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance. 


Freedom of religion, conscience and belief

  • Repeal blasphemy laws or amend them in compliance with the Covenant;
  • Ensure that all those who incite or engage in violence based on allegations of blasphemy as well as those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy are brought to justice;
  • Protect all judges, prosecutors, lawyers and witnesses involved in blasphemy cases;
  • Ensure that all cases of hate speech and hate crimes are investigated, and that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished in case of conviction;
  • Review school textbooks and curricula with a view to removing religiously biased content and incorporate human rights education therein, and continue to regulate madrassas;
  • Fully implement the judgement of the Supreme Court on 19 June 2014.

The next (second) periodic report of Pakistan should be submitted by 28 July 2020. 

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