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Pakistan: ICJ denounces hangings following secret trials by military courts
The ICJ today denounced the execution of four individuals convicted for their involvement in terrorism in secret trials by military courts.
Four civilians, namely Maulvi Abdus Salam, Hazrat Ali, Mujeebur Rehman and Sabeel alias Yahya, were hanged in Kohat early morning today after being sentenced to death by military courts earlier this year.
In a press statement issued on 13 August, the media wing of the armed forces announced they were convicted for their involvement in “terrorist activities”, including harboring, funding and transporting “suicide bombers” who attacked the Army Public School in December last year.
According to the statement, they are all “active members” of the “Toheedwal Jihad Group”.
The ICJ considers that the executions are unlawful, in breach of Pakistani law and its international legal obligations.
“The failure of the government and military authorities to make public information about the time and place of their trials, the charges and evidence against them, as well as the judgments of military courts have confirmed fears of human rights groups and the legal community that military trials in Pakistan are secret, opaque and constitute a violation of the right to a fair trial,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
The ICJ emphasizes that under international standards, civilians may not be tried before military tribunal.
As highlighted by the ICJ in a briefing paper released in April, proceedings before Pakistani military courts fall well short of national and international standards requiring fair trials before independent and impartial courts: judges are part of the executive branch of the State and continue to be subjected to military command; the right to appeal to civilian courts is not available; the right to a public hearing is not guaranteed; and a duly reasoned, written judgment, including the essential findings, evidence and legal reasoning, is denied. In addition, the procedures of military courts, the selection of cases to be referred to them, the location and timing of trial, and detailed about the alleged offences are kept secret.
“The ICJ supports the pursuit of justice for all victims of terrorism in Pakistan, including the horrific attack on the Army Public School last year”, added Zarifi. “However, justice will not be done by subverting the foundational pillars of justice: the right to a fair trial and independence of the judiciary.”
The UN Human Rights Committee, the supervisory authority for the ICCPR, has emphasized that in trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty, “scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important” and “imposition of a sentence of death upon conclusion of a trial, in which the provisions of article 14 of the Covenant have not been respected, constitutes a violation of the right to life.”
Pakistan has hanged more than 300 people since it lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty in December 2014. Initially lifted only for terrorism-related offences, the Government resumed executions in all cases in March 2015. Less than ten per cent of the total executions relate to terrorism-related offences.
“These executions only fulfill a desire for retribution and add to the disturbing trend of hanging people in the name of fighting terrorism in Pakistan and the region,” said Zarifi. “The death penalty has not been shown to have any deterrent effect on crime or terrorism anywhere in the world.”
The ICJ opposes capital punishment in all cases without exception. The death penalty constitutes a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
In December 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, for the fifth time since 2007, emphasizing that the use of the death penalty undermines human dignity and calling on those countries that maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on its use with a view towards its abolition.
Some 117 UN Member States, a wide majority, voted in favor of a worldwide moratorium on executions as a step towards abolition of the death penalty.
In line with the present international trend, the ICJ reiterates its call on Pakistan to impose an official moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; email: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Pakistan (London), t: +447889565691; email: reema.omer(a)icj.org
On 6 January 2015, less than a month after a terrorist attack on an army public school in Peshawar that killed nearly 150 people, most of them children, Parliament voted to amend the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, and the Army Act, 1952, to allow military courts to try civilians for offences related to terrorism.
Since January 2015, 56 cases have been referred to military courts, out of which 31 have been decided. Military courts have found the accused persons guilty in all cases. 27 convicts have been given the death penalty and four have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Around 20 cases are still pending before the various military courts.