Jadhav case: International Court of Justice holds alleged “spy” sentenced to death wrongly denied consular access

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today welcomed the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ-CIJ for its acronym) upholding the right of consular access and notification for Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav.

The Court determined that Pakistan had unlawfully denied Jadhav consular access before and after his summary trial by a military court.

It emphasized that any “potential prejudice and the implications for the evidence and the right of defence of the accused should receive close scrutiny during the review and reconsideration.”

The Court categorically held that Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) “does not exclude from its scope certain categories of persons, such as those suspected of espionage,” as argued by Pakistan.

“The decision by the International Court today is a resounding affirmation that there can be no curtailment of the right to consular access by foreign nationals by States that are Party to the VCCR,” said Ian Seiderman, Legal and Policy Director of the ICJ.

“Consular access is essential to ensure a fair trial for foreign nationals and this human right must not in any way be made contingent upon the offence foreign nationals are charged with.”

The International Court called on Pakistan to give effect to the Court’s ruling by providing effective review and reconsideration of both his conviction and sentence, including by taking account of the principles of the right to a fair trial.

The ICJ has pointed out that Pakistan’s military justice system and procedures are incompatible with the right to a fair trial. Under international standards, military tribunals are never permissible in prosecutions against civilians for offences carrying the death penalty.

Since 3 March 2016, Kulbhushan Jadhav has been in custody of the Pakistani authorities. The circumstances of his arrest remain in dispute between the Parties.

India was informed of the arrest on 25 March 2016. On 10 April 2017, Pakistan’s military announced Kulbhushan Jadhav had been convicted and sentenced to death by a military court for “espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan.”

India had brought the case against Pakistan before the International Court of Justice, alleging “egregious violations” of the VCCR by Pakistan because of the denial of consular access to Jadhav.

In response, Pakistan had primarily argued that Jadhav is a an Indian spy involved in acts of terrorism in Pakistan, and the VCCR is not applicable to spies or “terrorists” due to the inherent nature of the offences of espionage and terrorism.

“States around the world continue to use counter terrorism and national security as a justification to curtail human rights – the International Court of Justice’s affirmation that the protections under the VCCR are not conditional is hugely significant in this context,” said Ian Seiderman.

The International Court also held that it considered a continued stay of Jadhav’s execution as constituting “an indispensable condition for the effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence.”

In May 2017, the Court had asked Pakistan to take all measures at its disposal to ensure that Jadhav is not executed pending the final decision in the proceedings.

The ICJ considers the death penalty a violation of the right to life and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and notes that a large majority of States, in repeated UN resolutions, have called on retentionist states to declare a moratorium on the practice with a view to abolition.


In addition to the arguments regarding espionage and terrorism, Pakistan also relied on a bilateral agreement on consular access, signed by India and Pakistan in 2008, arguing that the agreement overrides the obligations under the VCCR. The International Court of Justice, however, rejected this argument, on the ground that, among other things, obligations under the VCCR may be enhanced or clarified by bilateral treaties, but cannot be diluted or undermined.

India had requested a number of other measures of relief from the Court, including the annulment of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s death sentence; a declaration that Kulbhushan Jadhav’s military trial was in violation of the VCCR and international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); a directive restraining Pakistan from giving effect to the death sentence; and a directive to release Kulbhushan Jadhav and ensure his safe passage to India.

However, in accordance with its jurisdictional competencies and prior precedents, the Court denied these remedies to India. As “appropriate reparation” in this case, the Court directed Pakistan to effectively review and reconsider Jadhav’s conviction and sentence “to ensure that full weight is given to the effect of the violation of the rights set forth in Article 36 of the Vienna Convention.”


Ian Seiderman: ICJ Legal and Policy Director, e: ian.seiderman(a)icj.org

Frederick Rawski: ICJ’s Asia Pacific Region, e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org