(New York) – The Pakistani government should amend criminal law provisions that treat murder and other serious crimes as private disputes, Human Rights Watch said today. These legal provisions, known as “blood money” laws, allow and sometimes require victims of serious crimes or their families to “pardon” suspects and drop criminal charges, usually for fear of reprisal or in exchange for financial compensation.
The “blood money” provisions allow those accused of murder and other serious offenses to avoid criminal penalties, leading to serious miscarriages of justice. The new Pakistani government should quickly revise the provisions of the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to end this practice for serious crimes.
“The Pakistani justice system’s treatment of the murder as a private dispute sabotages the right of victims to seek justice and of all Pakistanis to enjoy equal protection under the law,” said Patricia Gossman, associate director for the Asia at Human Rights Watch. “No state should act as a bystander in dealing with egregious crimes, which favors those accused of these crimes who are wealthy or powerful.”
In one example, on November 3, 2021, the badly bruised body of Nazim Jokhio, a local activist, was discovered at a farm in Malir, Karachi, Sindh province. The farm belonged to two brothers, Jam Abdul Karim and Jam Awais, both tribal chiefs and deputies. Days before his death, Jokhio had filmed foreign guests of the brothers chasing an endangered houbura bustard, and asked them to stop. The brothers then summoned Jokhio to the farm, where his body was later found.
After the killing sparked national outrage, police filed a criminal complaint against Karim and Awais. On March 30, Shireen Jokhio, the victim’s wife, posted a recorded video message on social media saying she “forgave” the accused and would not pursue the case any further because she is “weak” and cannot fight “alone”. She also said that “justice cannot be done in Pakistan”. She reiterated the statement in court, and the court granted both men bail.
In 1990, a presidential order amended Pakistan’s Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure ostensibly to make them more in line with Islam following a court ruling that murder and several other serious offenses should not be treated as offenses against the state but as private disputes.
The order goes even further than the court ruling, which distinguished between deliberate and unintentional murder and provided for the possibility of a “compromise” only in cases of unintentional murder. The Ordinance makes no such distinction. In 1997, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government re-enacted the Ordinance as an Act of Parliament without any discussion or debate. While the courts may, at their discretion, override a “compromise” and proceed with a trial and conviction, this power is rarely exercised.
The Pakistani legal system’s treatment of murder cases as private litigation rather than an offense against the state has had a disastrous impact on the administration of justice, Human Rights Watch said. In cases involving large inequalities in financial, social and political resources between suspects and victims, the victims or their families will be under considerable pressure to accept a “compromise”. Several high-profile cases in recent years have highlighted the seriousness of these laws.
In another similar case, in July 2016, 26-year-old Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her brother, who said he killed her because he thought she had “disgraced” their family and tribe in through his controversial videos and statements online. Baloch’s murder caused widespread outcry in Pakistan, leading to legislative action and the promise of swift prosecutions. Parliament passed a law imposing harsher penalties for so-called “honour killings” and partially closed the pardon loophole for such crimes. However, in February 2022, Baloch’s brother was acquitted after his parents “pardoned” him.
In September 2019, Salahuddin Ayubi, who had been arrested for robbing an ATM, was found dead in police custody. Ayubi’s body bore the marks of torture. His family said he suffered from mental illness. His father filed a criminal complaint against three police officers alleging his son had been tortured to death, but in October 2019 Ayubi’s family “pardoned” the officers and refused to pursue the case.
In January 2011, Raymond Davis, a contractor for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), shot dead two men at a junction in Lahore. Davis was released on March 16, 2011 after US authorities paid compensation to the families of the victims.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is a party, wrote in its concluding observations on Yemen in 2005 that “[t]The preponderant role of the victim’s family in the decision whether or not to apply the sentence on the basis of financial compensation (“blood money”) is … contrary to the Covenant.
“There can be no rule of law in a country that abdicates its responsibility to bring justice to its most vulnerable citizens,” Gossman said. “Nazim Jokhio’s case should be treated as an opportunity by the new Pakistani government to hold those responsible for this heinous crime accountable but also to change the laws that allow injustice.”