3 Nirbhaya convicts ask ICJ to stay their executions: Here’s why it won’t work

The ICJ has no jurisdiction over individual disputes within sovereign nations

nirbhaya-convicts The four adult convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case. Clockwise: Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Singh and Pawan Gupta

The legal counsel for three of the accused in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case has sent a letter to the International Court of Justice seeking a stay on their execution.

On a day when the Supreme Court refused to entertain the plea of Mukesh Singh for the restoration of legal remedies and said that he had no legal recourse left, A. P. Singh, counsel for the other three convicts, Pawan Kumar Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur, wrote to the Hague-based court seeking a stay on the executions.

The four men were convicted of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern that took place on December 16

Singh submitted the petition in the Netherlands Embassy on Monday.

Legal experts, however, say that this is not even a last-ditch effort at stalling the execution, slated for 5.30 am on March 20. “It is only an attempt by Singh to show the families of the accused that he is working till their last breath to keep them away from the gallows,” said Seema Kushwaha, counsel for the victim's parents.

The appeal is unlikely to help the convicts. The ICJ is an institution under the United Nations that listens to disputes between countries, not between individuals of the same country. India is not a signatory to the UN charter on abolishing the death sentence. India is a sovereign country and no outsider can interfere with laws and proceedings taking place within it. And even if, by the greatest stretch of possibility, the ICJ could take a look at this case, its powers are limited to merely recommending an action. The ICJ does not have the power to enforce its recommendations.

The plea seeks the international court's intervention in the death sentence on a number of grounds, ranging from the far-fetched to the outright bizarre. Speaking to THE WEEK, Singh said that there were so many petitions pending in various courts and that the execution was being rushed without giving a thought to these pending pleas.

One plea pending in the Kakardooma Court is regarding the alleged custodial attack on Pawan while lodged in Mandoli jail last year. The court has set April 8, 2020 as the date to hear the actions that were taken by the authorities to protect the inmate while in their custody, said Singh.

Vinay Sharma had filed a writ petition in the Delhi high court challenging “irregularity in rejection of mercy petition” while the state was under the model code of conduct before the Delhi Assembly elections. There is another appeal against Awninder Pratap Pandey, the victim's companion, who was also attacked that night. This plea claims that Pandey took money from a news channel in 2013 for “false and fabricated deposition” against the accused. Then, there is a Special Leave Petition slated to come up for hearing on March 23 in the Supreme Court, in which the Centre has opposed the Delhi high court's stand that the convicts cannot be hanged separately. While the matter was being posted for March 23, the courts had however said that this case was not to stand in the way of fixing the date of execution.

The plea to the ICJ also goes on to say that even the courts will be working on a restricted basis from March 16 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everyone is aware of what is happening in world [sic] and also Delhi NCR in regard of water and air. Life is going short to short, then why death penalty?” it argues.

When asked whether this appeal would even be entertained by the ICJ, Singh said, “It is for the courts to decide whether they want to entertain the plea. My job is to look for legal remedies. I am using the same CrPC to seek a way out of the executions, which is used to issue the black warrant.'' Singh, however, said that with so many pleas still pending, there was hope that the executions could be stalled.

“Singh is just doing theatrics. He has run out of all options to save the convicts. I am confident that nothing will come in the way of the hangings on March 20,'' said Badrinath, the victim's father.

📣 The Week is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TheWeekmagazine) and stay updated with the latest headlines