One year into the establishment of military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offences, the operation of Pakistan’s system of “military justice” shows complete disregard of the right of a fair trial, the ICJ said in a new briefing paper released today.
“The trials by Pakistan’s military courts have reaffirmed fears of human rights groups and the legal community that military trials in Pakistan are secret, opaque and make a mockery of Pakistan’s domestic and international fair trial obligations”, said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
In its analysis brief, the ICJ examines the performance of Pakistan’s military courts in the first year of their operation, including their failure to respect the defendants’ right to a fair trial.
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;
- A duly reasoned, written judgment, including the essential findings, evidence and legal reasoning, is denied;
- The procedures of military courts, the selection of cases to be referred to them, the location and timing of trial, and details about the alleged offences are kept secret; and
- The death penalty is implemented after unfair trials.
In addition to these concerns, the ICJ has also received reports that suspects being tried by military courts have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention and their family members have been harassed and intimidated by military authorities.
These concerns are exacerbated by the military’s refusal to give family members and civil society monitors access to detention centers.
A number of families have also alleged that juveniles are being tried by military courts in contravention of Pakistani and international law standards on the rights of children.
“Pakistan faces a genuine threat from militant groups engaging in acts of terrorism and the Pakistani Government has an obligation to protect all people from such attacks,” said Zarifi.
“But militarizing the judicial process will not lead to justice and it will not control terrorism. This is the lesson from around the world,” he added.
Since the amendments to the Constitution and Army Act one year ago, the Pakistan Government has constituted 11 military courts to hear terrorism-related cases. Military courts have concluded the trials of 64 people, finding the defendants guilty in 40 cases. 36 people have been sentenced to death and four have been given life sentences.
Nearly a hundred cases are still pending before the various military courts in the country.
Eight civilians convicted by military courts in secret trials for their involvement in “terrorist activities” have been hanged.
The ICJ considers these executions unlawful, in breach of Pakistan’s domestic law and its international legal obligations.
The ICJ has urged Pakistan to roll back the system of “military justice” and undertake a comprehensive review of its counter terrorism laws, policies and practices to ensure they are compatible with Pakistan’s national and international legal obligations.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; email: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for South Asia (London), t: +44 7889565691; email: reema.omer(a)icj.org
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