Pakistan: as military tribunals lapse, reforms needed to bring terrorism suspects to justice

As Pakistani military courts once again cease to have jurisdiction over civilians for terrorism-related offences, the Government must urgently reform the country’s criminal justice system, the ICJ said today.

Perpetrators of terrorist attacks must be brought to justice pursuant to fair credible trials and in accordance with due process, the human rights organization added.

The 21st Amendment and corresponding amendments to the Army Act 1952 are scheduled to lapse today, as their respective two-year sunset clauses expire. So far, the Pakistani Government has not proposed any legislation to extend the jurisdiction of military courts to conduct trials of civilians, the ICJ says.

The Geneva-based organization has published an updated list of people convicted by military courts, the charges against them, and their alleged organizational affiliations.

“The lapse of the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians is a step in the right direction, but unsurprisingly, there is no sign of the promised reforms to strengthen the ordinary criminal justice system to effectively handle terrorism-related cases,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.

The National Action Plan envisioned military courts as a short-term “exceptional” measure to try “terrorists”, to be operational only for a two-year period during which the Government would bring about necessary “reforms in criminal courts system to strengthen the anti-terrorism institutions.”

“The Pakistani Government must not re-enact legislation to continue secret military trials of civilians, nor resort to more short-term, short-sighted security measures that are contrary to human rights protections,” Zarifi added.

Instead, the Government should urgently invest in enhancing the capacity and security of judges, investigators and prosecutors to make the regular criminal justice system more effective in conducting fair, credible terrorism trials and bringing perpetrators to account, the ICJ says.

According to military sources and ICJ’s monitoring of military trials in Pakistan since January 2015, military courts have convicted 274 people for their “involvement” in terrorism-related offences, 161 of whom have been sentenced to death.

Twelve out of the 161 people sentenced to death have been hanged, 113 people have been given prison sentences. Details of only seven people given life imprisonment have been made public. The names, charges, and duration of prison terms for the remaining 106 people have not been disclosed.


Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)

Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Pakistan (Lahore), t: +923214968434; e: reema.omer(a)

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Additional information

At least 159 out of 168 people (95 per cent) whose convictions have been publicly acknowledged by the military had allegedly “admitted” to the charges, raising serious questions about the possibility of torture or other coercive measures being used to secure these confessions.

The ICJ’ 2009 global study on state responses to security threats examined in detail the dangers of the “exceptionalism doctrine”, which justifies a departure from the normal legal processes and human rights protections on the basis of the “exceptional” character of the threat.

In time, many of these measures became permanently incorporated into ordinary law, blinding governments to the actual reasons behind the lack of accountability for terrorism and serious crime.

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