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EU delegation warns Pakistan over death penalty

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

An EU human rights delegation Tuesday warned Pakistan that resuming executions would be seen as a "major setback" as the European parliament considers the country's application for preferential trade status.

The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif scrapped a five-year moratorium on the death penalty in June in a bid to crack down on criminals and Islamist militants in the violence-torn country.

Hangings were due to resume last week until a temporary stay was ordered following objections from the president and rights groups.

European officials are visiting to assess the human rights situation as the bloc considers whether to grant Pakistan access to the so-called GSP-plus scheme of preferential trade tariffs.

The matter is expected to come before the European parliament in the coming weeks and delegation chief Ana Gomes, a Portuguese MEP, told reporters in Islamabad progress on human rights was crucial.

"We value as extremely positive the fact that Pakistan adopted the moratorium on the death penalty," she said after talks with government officials, political parties and campaign groups.

"We hope that Pakistan will keep it. It would be viewed as a major setback if Pakistan were to lift the moratorium on the death penalty."

Countries wanting to gain GSP-plus status are required to ratify and implement a series of international conventions relating to labour rights and governance.

EU ambassador to Pakistan Lars-Gunnar Wigemark said that while the terms did not specifically include the death penalty, it contributed to the picture.

"It would send an overall negative signal since the EU position on the abolition of the death penalty is very clear," he said.

"We don't believe that it will deter any violent crime. There's no evidence it deters any violent crime, including terrorism."

Pakistan is keen to reinvigorate its ailing economy by boosting business with the EU -- already its biggest commercial partner with overall trade reaching 8.1 billion euros ($11 billion) in 2011.

A final decision on the GSP-plus application is expected by the end of the year.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130827/eu-delegation-warns-pakistan-over-death-penalty