(New York) – Pakistan’s government should reverse its decision to lift its moratorium on the death penalty for all capital crimes and move toward abolition, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 10, 2015, government officials confirmed that the Ministry of Interior had instructed provincial governments to proceed with executions according to law.

“The Pakistani government’s ill-conceived decision to completely abandon its death penalty moratorium puts thousands of lives at risk,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Government approval of a potential nationwide execution spree is a knee-jerk reaction to a terrible crime rather than a considered response to legitimate security concerns.”

Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, one of the world’s largest populations of prisoners facing execution. Pakistani law mandates capital punishment for 28 offenses, including murder, rape, treason, and blasphemy. Those on death row are often from the most marginalized sections of society, like Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court on charges of blasphemy.

The government’s action follows Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s December 17, 2014 decision to rescind a four-year unofficial moratorium on capital punishment for non-military personnel “in terrorism related cases.” This was in response to the December 16 attack by the Pakistani Taliban splinter group Tehreek-e-Taliban on a school in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan that left at least 148 dead – almost all of them children. Sharif’s decision has led to more than 20 executions of people convicted of terrorism-related charges.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. Pakistan’s use of the death penalty is inconsistent with international human rights law, according to statements of United Nations human rights experts and various UN bodies. Human rights law upholds every human being’s “inherent right to life” and limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death. Pakistan should join with the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions and a move by UN member countries toward abolition of the death penalty.

“Pakistan’s government should demonstrate wise leadership by recognizing the well-documented failure of the death penalty as a crime deterrent and joining the growing number of countries that have abolished capital punishment,” Kine said. “The government should treat the death penalty for what it is: a cruel and irrevocable punishment rather than a policy solution to complex crime and security problems.”