ISLAMABAD: The European Union (EU) cautioned Pakistan on Tuesday that lifting the moratorium on the death penalty will be viewed as a major setback in the 28-member bloc and possibly affect Islamabad’s quest for duty-free access to the European markets.
Days ahead of presenting a formal request for seeking duty free access, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed the interior ministry to halt executions till further orders. The instruction came in the wake of the foreign ministry’s recommendations to avail the Generalised Scheme of Preference (GSP), according to interior ministry officials.
Head of European Parliament Sub-Committee on Human Rights Ana Gomes voiced the EU’s stance against the death penalty.
“The EU is opposed to the capital punishment in all cases without exception. The EU delegation hopes that the moratorium on the death penalty will be extended, which will be a key step in the right direction,” Gomes said, adding that it will be viewed as a major setback if Pakistan lifted the moratorium.
Gomes, along with Andrzej Grzyb, is on a fact-finding mission to assess the country’s human rights situation, in particular that of women and children and ongoing discussion on the death penalty.
The EU warning comes at a time when the Taliban have also threatened to attack key government installations, if the government executed the captured Taliban.
The new government has assured the delegation that it would extend the moratorium on the death penalty, a European diplomat told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.
“The EU Parliament will soon vote on developing economic relations with Pakistan and it will take into account all considerations including human rights,” said Gomes. To a question, Gomes said the EU did not demand from Pakistan to amend the laws for abolishing the death penalty.
“What we want is that the capital punishment should not be awarded,” she added.
The EU Ambassador to Pakistan Lars Wigemark said the moratorium on the death penalty was not directly linked with the Generalised System of Preference plus status, which Islamabad is seeking for duty free access, but by declaring a moratorium on the death penalty Pakistan made very positive achievement that the country’s diplomats could exploit in its negotiations with the EU.
Lars said Pakistan has not yet formally presented a request for seeking duty free access. The request will be sent by Islamabad this week or by early next month.
In the first leg of the visit, the delegation held meetings with the government, members of parliament, political parties and representatives of the civil society. Gomes said the static perception in Europe was very sombre and it was not just because of the security situation in Pakistan but also because of human rights indicators.
Blasphemy law and women’s rights
On the issue of blasphemy law, she said it was a sensitive topic but many people in Pakistan shared their views. “The blasphemy issue is bringing a bad reputation to Pakistan and we have conveyed this to the government,” Gomes said.
The EU also expressed alarm about the acute situation of women and girls in Pakistan. Gomes said Pakistan was required to take decisive actions to combat all forms of discrimination. She said the EU delegation also expressed concerns over abuse of minorities’ rights and sectarian killings and urged the government to establish strong institutional setup, including monitoring and accountability mechanisms, for protecting human rights and fulfilling Pakistan’s international human rights commitments.
Two weeks ago, the foreign ministry had moved a summary to the prime minister as well as the interior ministry, seeking a ban on executions
“If Pakistan wants to qualify for the GSP plus plan then it will have to stop the execution of prisoners on death row,” a senior official told The Express Tribune.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s directions came five days ago, while foreign office summary was moved two weeks [ago] roughly,” confirmed interior ministry spokesperson Omar Hameed Khan.
The matter also came under discussion in the a meeting of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control on Tuesday, where interior ministry spokesperson stated on record that the prime minister had written a letter to the interior ministry to halt executions until further orders. Senator Mashadi, a member of the committee, insisted that consultation between the president and the prime minister over the matter, earlier this month, was illegal.
“If the government wants to stop executions, it should introduce amendments in the existing laws,” Mashadi suggested.
Pakistan aims to qualify for the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), which will take effect from January 2014, and will qualify for GSP plus if it continues to keep the moratorium intact.
The GSP plus offers the possibility for Pakistani companies to benefit from zero tariffs on all products being exported to the European Union.
Pakistanis jailed abroad
Foreign Office officials told the Senate Standing Committee that some 7,912 Pakistanis were languishing in foreign jails. As many as 206 Pakistani prisoners are jailed in China; 170 of them have already been convicted and 36 are under trial, according to the foreign minister’s special secretary Noor Muhammad Jadmani.