Serious human rights concerns persisted in 2015. Following the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan lifted the de facto moratorium on the death penalty, first in December 2014 for terrorist offences, then in March 2015 for all capital crimes.
Throughout the year, over 325 people were executed, with an estimated 8,000 on death row. There were serious concerns over Pakistan's use of the death penalty, including fair trial issues and the execution of persons who were alleged to have been minors at the time of the offence. The Peshawar attack also prompted a constitutional amendment to enable military courts to try civilian terrorist cases. There is little information on these courts and no access to proceedings, making it impossible to assess their compliance with international obligations. The operating space for domestic and international NGOs narrowed considerably, driven in a large part by uncertainty over registration. This impeded their work and is yet to be resolved. Sectarian attacks continued but, relative to 2014, their intensity decreased in the last six months of 2015.
Ahmadiyya, Shia, Hazara, Christian, Hindu and Sikh minority communities continued to suffer discrimination and targeted violence. As in previous years, the blasphemy laws were misused to the detriment of Muslims and non-Muslims. The government of Pakistan took some steps to develop institutions mandated to increase compliance with international human rights standards, including finally establishing the National Commission for Human Rights.
FCO human rights objectives in 2015 for Pakistan focused on the death penalty, freedom of religion or belief, the promotion of the rule of law, and women's rights. At the highest level, the UK made clear to Pakistan its opposition to the death penalty. We urged Pakistan to reinstate the moratorium and comply with international commitments. FCO Ministers repeatedly expressed concerns about violations of freedom of religion or belief and encouraged Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws. In Pakistan, British High Commission support for criminal justice reform was extensive, provided through programmes to improve civilian capacity to investigate, prosecute and convict criminals, including terrorists, in line with international standards.
Pakistan remained a priority for UK development assistance, with programmes designed to improve human rights. Within the framework of the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which promotes economic development and compliance with 27 international conventions (including seven human rights conventions), the EU completed its biennial assessment of Pakistan's progress. During the review period, Pakistan launched a Treaty Implementation Cell and roadmap.
In 2016, Pakistan can take further steps to ensure international commitments and constitutional provisions to safeguard human rights are honoured in practice. These include reinstatement of the death penalty moratorium, reform of the blasphemy law and discriminatory legislation, and action to empower women. Progress on judicial reform should enable the Pakistani authorities to respect the January 2017 sunset clause on the use of military courts to try terrorist suspects. GSP+ has helped to establish a framework for monitoring compliance with human rights commitments. With adequate political will, in 2016 that architecture can help drive tangible human rights improvements in practice.