PAKISTAN

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Situation

Despite the adoption in 2018 of a law called the Juvenile Justice System Act 2018 (JJSA2018) which now explicitly prohibits the death penalty for juveniles (but without mentioning the abolition of life imprisonment), the death penalty can still be imposed on children under the age of 18, and executed, with reference to the Anti-Terrorism Decree, the Anti-Drugs Decree, or for crimes under HADD (religious precept). It can be estimated that there are approximately 800 convicted persons at risk or awaiting execution (depending on the progress of the proceedings) who were minors at the time of the acts of which they are accused.

Excerpts from Amnesty International’s 2017 report on the general context: “The law passed in 2016 was used to intimidate, harass and arbitrarily arrest human rights defenders because of comments posted online. Enforced disappearances were commonplace, and impunity was widespread. Blasphemy-related violence cost a student his life, and, rare event, the government condemned these actions. Large-scale protests were held to support anti-blasphemy laws that were used to condemn people who expressed their views. Journalists were attacked without knowing who their attackers were. Members of minorities continued to be discriminated against when trying to access economic and social rights. Women continued to be killed ‘in the name of honour’ despite the adoption, in 2016, of a law punishing this practice under criminal law.

Objectives

During this 3rd year, establish the legal defence of at least ten young people on death row or at risk of life imprisonment.

Partners: Association L.A.W. and several independant lawyers

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Achievements

In September 2018, Pakistan passed a law called the Juvenile Justice System Act 2018 (“JJSA2018”), explicitly prohibiting the death penalty for juveniles (without mentioning the abolition of life imprisonment). The promulgation of this new law does not question the existence of the programme: indeed, in their contacts with the various professions linked to juvenile justice, our partners in Punjab and Sindh say they are appalled at the almost total ignorance of this new law – and even sometimes meet professionals who disapprove of it. This leaves the field open to any sentence of capital punishment or life imprisonment, especially when there is a doubt (real or supposed) about the age of the accused at the time of the acts attributed to him/her.

The strategy this year was therefore to organise five forums to raise awareness on juvenile justice for a total of 240 participants (police officers, judges, prison staff, social workers – Probation Officers -, the media, NGOs), while extending the theme to include effective respect of fundamental rights of the child in the course of all judicial proceedings, from the arrest to the criminal sanction.

During 2019, Vivere’s two partner lawyers, who regularly manage to keep abreast of new cases of incarceration in Lahore, also followed up on 27 individual cases of incarcerated minors (including 15 new cases that appeared during the year). Of the 27 cases, 12 were the subject of compromises with the victims’ families. 4 were acquitted, and 2 were sentenced to 2-year terms. Many of these young people in prison had no lawyer, no family visits, and no precise knowledge of the procedure that is (or will be) applied to them.

At the end of 2019, contacts were established with an NGO in the Sindh State (“Marvi Rural Development Organization – M.R.D.O.“), which runs many projects in rural areas, including legal programmes to support women and children in village communities. After exchanges and visits with our partner lawyers, the foundations have been laid to initiate a development of our programme in 2020 with this NGO in this neighbouring state of Punjab. In the absence of means to enable nationwide action throughout the country, this extension to a new state allows us to envisage a further step towards the creation of an advocacy network based on concrete experiences of working and following up on numerous individual cases.