Danish aid to Pakistan threatened by shifting death penalty stance

First execution in six years could doom aid program

Denmark’s aid to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) programs in Pakistan hangs in the balance as the southern Asian nation continues to grapple with death penalty issues.

The unofficial moratorium on executions that has existed in Pakistan since 2008 is looking more fragile than ever because the new government wants to crack down on crime and Islamist militants, pledging to implement the death penalty as a deterrent.

Later this month, the nation could potentially execute its first prisoner in six years, which would spell an end to the moratorium and could lead to Denmark reconsidering its aid to the UNODC program in Pakistan.

Following closely
Lars Vogtmann Sørensen, a desk officer dealing with affairs pertaining to Pakistan at the Foreign Ministry, told the Copenhagen Post that the Danes are following the execution case closely.

“Denmark is a very strong supporter of the total abolition of the death penalty so we work along these lines and we’ve made that clear to the Pakistani government on a number of occasions,” Sørensen said.

“And not only bilaterally with the Pakistani authorities, but also via the EU, which holds more weight than Denmark can manage to convey alone.”

Contingent on conditions
Sørensen also stated that the Danish government was in very close contact with the UNODC, locally in Islamabad and in Vienna where they are headquartered, to ensure that Danish funding is going to activities that are consistent with Denmark’s stance on capital punishment.

From 2010-2014, Denmark has given some 16 million kroner to UNODC anti-drug programmes in Pakistan, specifically supporting three aims in the country.

These aims are: enhanced border management; promoting more effective investigations of criminals – training and reviewing, improving the rule of law and making sure that due process is done – and supporting prison management so it adheres to international standards, which includes the expansion of Pakistan’s rehabilitation program and the establishment of independent prison monitors.

Several stays of execution
At the centre of it all is Shoaib Sarwar, a death row inmate convicted of murder in 1998, who was scheduled to be executed by hanging on September 18, and then again on October 13 after a postponement of the initial moratorium lift.

On Tuesday, the Copenhagen Post learned via Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) – a non-profit human rights law firm in Lahore – that Sarwar’s execution had once again been postponed until October 27 after the attorney general failed to submit a reply on the status of the moratorium on the death penalty.

Sticking to principles
It’s not the first time that Danish counter-narcotics aid has hung in the balance, and the Danes have shown that they won’t hesitate to withdraw aid should it conflict with the nation’s principles and responsibilities.

In April last year, the development minister at the time, Christian Friis Bach, decided to end support to the UNODC programme in Iran due to revelations that Iran had been using the programme to execute hundreds of criminals every year.

Opposition should be enough
But until the moratorium is lifted, Danish aid will continue to flow, much to the consternation of Reprieve – a non-profit organisation that works against the death penalty worldwide, Pakistan included – which maintains that the issue shouldn’t be about whether an execution can go ahead, but rather the principle that Denmark and the EU are opposed to capital punishment.

“If we’re going to stand behind our principles there, we need to not contribute in any way if we can see there’s a link between the aid we give and the executions and death sentences,” Maya Foa, the strategic director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said.

“As Denmark has established with Iran, it needs to apply that consistency and express its position on the death penalty rather than being concerned that an execution might take place.”

Tough prison conditions
Foa said that prisons in Pakistan are incredibly overcrowded and can be death sentences in themselves as inmates can languish behind bars for decades – a practice that European human rights courts have deemed a cruel and unusual punishment.

Foa argues that it is irrational for Denmark to fund projects that push a law enforcement model in a country where the law being enforced carries a potential death sentence – there are 27 offences in Pakistan legally punishable by death, including blasphemy and sexual intercourse outside of marriage.

Transfer the aid
But the Danes shouldn’t withdraw their aid, argues Foa, but instead transfer aid from the strict law enforcement perspective, which embraces increased arrests as an indicator of success, to preventative measures, such as tackling drug dependency.

“The people they are convicting, thanks to European and Danish funding, are the most vulnerable people in society. These are people with severe mental health issues, people with intellectual disabilities and people who are old,” Foa said.

“It is people who are easy to pin a drug offence charge on – people who are easily manipulated and are ending up on death row – and it is astonishing to me that we could possibly support such a regime. It’s failing on all levels.”

High fabrication rate
Foa’s statement is backed up by the former additional attorney general in Pakistan, Tariq Khokhar, who revealed that 60 to 70 per cent of litigations or FIR reports – a police document registering a cognisable offence – in Pakistan are falsified or fabricated.

Foa contended that the Danish contribution to UNODC’s general efforts is high compared to other countries and, as such, it is in effect contributing to some regimes that take a very aggressive stance on drugs.

“Indirectly, I would say that it is involved in the general war on drugs efforts,” Foa said.

A spokesperson from the UNODC would only comment to the Copenhagen Post that the organisation followed the UN Convention and was working towards “abolishing the death penalty on a global scale” and had no specific comment concerning the Pakistan case.

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