Hat Tip: Alan Cooperman
Parliamentary response shows government spent £10m on Islamabad’s terror prosecution programme
from the Guardian of December 22nd
by Mark Townsend
British taxpayers are funding prosecutions in Pakistan that have led to dozens of death sentences, according to newly disclosed details of a secretive UK aid programme.
The documents reveal that the Foreign Office is supporting specialist civilian courts that prosecute terrorist suspects in what the UK government’s global security strategy calls a “rule of law” programme in Pakistan.
They reveal that the UK government has supported the project since 2016, during which time the courts have handed down 59 death sentences, some of which are likely to be unsafe convictions.
A parliamentary response last week said the UK government had spent £10.39m on the Pakistan programme, the bulk of the money – £9.32m – coming from the overseas aid budget.
One strand of the project, the “counter terrorism associated prosecutorial reforms initiative” (Capri) “aims to increase Pakistan’s civilian capacity to investigate, detain, prosecute and try terrorists in line with international standards and human rights norms”. However legal charity Reprieve says it is impossible for the UK support civilian terrorism courts in Pakistan in accordance with international law because the courts do not meet recognised standards.
Campaigners for Reprieve say death sentences are imposed for offences such as kidnapping, despite international law prohibiting the death sentence for anything but murder.
Pakistan’s anti-terrorism act defines terrorism as any crime or threat designed to create a “sense of fear or insecurity in society” – leading to prosecutions of people who have no connection with extremism.
The UN Human Rights Committee said last year that it “remains concerned by the very broad definition of terrorism” and “absence of procedural safeguards”. Critics also say Pakistan’s civilian courts do not meet due-process safeguards for issuing death sentences that are required by international law.
Since the Foreign Office began funding Capri, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s death penalty database shows courts sentenced 31 people to death in 2016, 18 in 2017 and so far 10 this year.
The case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy before being acquitted in October, has provoked fresh scrutiny on Pakistan’s human rights record. Harriet McCulloch, the deputy director of Reprieve, said: “It is deeply troubling that Britain is assisting in the investigation and prosecution of crimes that carry the death penalty in Pakistan, particularly as those crimes are being tried in courts that do not uphold basic standards of due process and where the rates of wrongful conviction are alarmingly high.
“In the last three years, British taxpayers have spent £10m supporting a legal system that convicts and sentences people to death for alleged crimes that often have nothing to do with terrorism.”
Another UN report, by its Committee against Torture, has criticised Pakistan’s anti-terror laws for allowing confessions made in police custody to be admitted as evidence.
Analysis by Reprieve and the Islamabad-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights of nearly 300 reported Pakistan supreme court judgments handed down between 2010 and 2017 found that death sentences were overturned in 77% of cases. From 2015 to the end of 2017, this increased to 81%.
Last year the supreme court upheld the death penalty in 8% of its reported capital cases, overturning the capital conviction or ordering a review in 92% of capital cases.
Despite growing pressure for the UK government to disclose more details about work carried out under its global security programme it remains reluctant to comment on the issue. On Tuesday the Pakistan rule-of-law programme was raised in the House of Commons by shadow foreign minister Helen Goodman who asked if a human-rights risk assessment had been carried out on the project.
The government’s response was redacted on “security grounds”.
The UK’s rule-of-law programme in Pakistan is a joint project of the Department for International Development, Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, National Crime Agency, Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service.
McCulloch added: “The UK government has said this programme is compliant with human rights. It’s difficult to see how that can be, and as ministers refuse to publish the human-rights risk assessments behind this funding, it is impossible to be sure that Britain is not complicit in grave abuses.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Our programmes in Pakistan have supported the reform of the criminal justice system and we are confident it has been delivered in a way that is consistent with our opposition to the death penalty.
“All our programmes have robust measures in place to protect the human rights of beneficiaries. They also receive robust scrutiny to ensure all spend represents value for money for UK taxpayers and are in line with our foreign policy objectives.