Military “justice” system: a glaring surrender of human rights

The trial of civilians by military courts is a glaring surrender of human rights and fundamental freedoms, found the ICJ in its Briefing Paper Military Injustice in Pakistan released today.

The Pakistani Government must not extend the tenure of military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offences, the ICJ said.

“Military trials of civilians have been a disaster for human rights in Pakistan,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia Director.

“As a recent judgment of the Peshawar High Court has confirmed, proceedings in these tribunals are secret, opaque, and violate the right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal,” he added.

In the briefing paper, the ICJ has documented serious fair trials violations in the operation of military courts, including: denial of the right to counsel of choice; failure to disclose the charges against the accused; denial of a public hearing; failure to give convicts copies of a judgment with evidence and reasons for the verdict; and a very high number of convictions – more than 97 per cent – based on “confessions” without adequate safeguards against torture and ill treatment.

The ICJ has also demonstrated how military courts are being used to give legal cover to the practice of enforced disappearances.

The use of military courts to try civilians is inconsistent with international standards, the ICJ recalled.

According to the military, in the four years since military courts were empowered to try terrorism-related offences, they have convicted at least 641 people. Some 345 people have been sentenced to death and 296 people have been given prison sentences. Only five people have been acquitted. At least 56 people have been hanged.

An earlier law giving military courts authority to try civilians will lapse on 30 March 2019. Last week, the Cabinet approved a proposal to extend the tenure of military courts for another two years. The Government is currently in consultation with opposition parties to get consensus on the extension.

“Extending the tenure of military courts is an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue: the Government’s failure to enact reforms to strengthen the criminal justice system during the four years military courts have been in operation,” said Rawski.

“The Government must account for its failure to deliver on the promise of delivering justice for the victims of terrorism and other abuses in Pakistan instead of once again extending the “exceptional” use of military courts for civilian trials,” he added.

The ICJ fears that repeated extensions risk making the practice effectively permanent.

If the Government decides to table legislation to extend the tenure of military courts, the Parliament must take a stand in defense of the rights of all people in Pakistan, instead of once again extending a discredited and abusive process, the ICJ says.


Frederick Rawski (Bangkok), ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director, e: frederick.rawski(a)

Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Advisor (South Asia) t: +447889565691; e: reema.omer(a)

Additional Information

The National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan passed the 21st amendment to the Constitution in January 2015, authorizing military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offences for a period of two years. The 21st amendment lapsed on 6 January 2017.

Despite earlier promises that military courts were only temporary and “exceptional”, after the expiration of the 21st Amendment, Parliament enacted on 30 March 2017 the 23rd Amendment and amendments to the Army Act to renew military courts’ jurisdiction over civilians. The amendments were given retrospective effect from 7 January 2017, and were due to lapse two years after their date of “commencement”.

According to the law ministry, the expanded jurisdiction of military courts will lapse on 30 March 2019. (Earlier reports had suggested the amendments expired on Jan 6, 2019 — two years after the date of “operation” of the 23rd Amendment.)

Pakistan-military courts-Advocacy-Analysis brief-2019-ENG (full briefing paper in PDF)

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