India: Reinstate Moratorium on Death Penalty

Hanging of Mumbai Attacker a Step Backwards for Justice System

NOVEMBER 22, 2012

(New York) –The Indian government should immediately reinstate its moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. India ended its eight-year unofficial moratorium on executions when on November 21, 2012, it hanged Ajmal Kasab, convicted for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and wounded more than 300 others.

“The hanging of Ajmal Kasab marks a distressing end to India’s moratorium on executions and is a step backwards for India’s justice system,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should take prompt and decisive action toward a total abolition of capital punishment.”

Kasab, a Pakistani national, was one of 10 gunmen who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008, laying siege to the city for nearly three days. He was sentenced to death in 2010 after being found guilty on numerous charges including murder, conspiracy to murder, and waging war against the country. He was hanged in secret in a prison in the city of Pune, just southeast of Mumbai, after he lost his appeals and India’s president this month rejected his plea for clemency.

India executed Kasab just two days after it opposed a draft resolution by the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee calling for a global moratorium on capital punishment. India was among the 39 countries that voted against the draft resolution, which was adopted with 110 votes in favor. Thirty-six countries abstained.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. India has maintained that it imposes capital punishment in only the “rarest of rare” cases. However the lack of legal safeguards to prevent the execution of individuals whose crimes do not meet the Indian government’s ambiguous “rarest of the rare” criteria is a serious concern, Human Rights Watch said.

In July 2012, 14 retired Supreme Court and High Court judges asked President Pranab Mukherjee to commute the death sentences of 13 inmates erroneously upheld by the Supreme Court over the past nine years. This followed the court’s admission that some of these death sentences were rendered per incuriam (out of error or ignorance). This November the Supreme Court ruled that the “rarest of rare” standard for capital punishment had not been applied uniformly over the years and the norms on death penalty needed “a fresh look.”

“Capital punishment is an act of cruel, pre-meditated killing sanctioned by the law,” Ganguly said. “India can demonstrate to the world that it’s as committed to justice as it is to economic development by joining with those nations that have decided to abolish the death penalty.”