The Protection of Pakistan Act 2014 signed today by the President will aggravate human rights violations in the country instead of helping to protect Pakistani people from attacks by armed groups, the ICJ says.
The new law, which was passed by Parliament on 2 July 2014, gives military and law enforcement authorities sweeping powers to detain individuals in contravention of Pakistan’s international human rights law obligations, and creates special courts to try offences in proceedings that violate the right to a fair trial.
“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 Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director. “Human rights law gives governments reasonable flexibility to combat terrorism, without contravening human rights obligations, and claims of “threats to national security” can never be used as a justification for the practice of secret detentions, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment and impunity for violations of human rights.”
The ICJ has raised concerns about the Protection of Pakistan Act since the Government placed a draft bill before the Senate in April 2014, and published a detailed briefing paper on the Bill’s incompatibility with Pakistan’s human rights obligations on 14 May 2014.
The ICJ set out recommendations aiming to ensure Pakistan’s laws and counter-terrorism practices are compatible with Pakistan’s obligations to protect and promote human rights.
The ICJ welcomes the few improvements to the draft bill, including some limitations on the use of force by law enforcements agencies and judicial oversight of internment centers.
But the ICJ notes that Parliament adopted the draft bill without addressing provisions that violate Pakistan’s human rights obligations, including:
- Section 6, which permits preventive administrative detention without adequate safeguards and retrospectively authorizes otherwise arbitrary or unauthorized arrests or detentions previously carried out, in violation of the right to liberty;
- Section 9, which among other things, authorizes secret and unacknowledged detention, as well as in some cases, the nondisclosure of grounds for detention;
- Section 3(2)(c), which allows arbitrary interference with the right to privacy;
- Vague and overbroad offences, defined in the Schedule to the Act, including Section 1(xiv) relating to cyber crimes, internet offences and other offences related to information technology that “threaten the security of Pakistan”, which are open to abuse and could lead to the stifling of peaceful expression of political dissent;
- Sections 15 and 5(5), which reverse the burden of proof in criminal proceedings, in contravention of the presumption of innocence, a fundamental requirement for fair criminal proceedings, applicable to all accused persons no matter how heinous the crime with which they are charged;
- Sections 8, 10, 17(2), and 17(3), which establish Special Courts and set out procedures for the operation of Special Courts that would expand the scope of secret hearings and do not meet human rights requirements for fair and public criminal proceedings before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.
“It is very disappointing that Pakistan’s Parliament has passed the Protection of Pakistan Act despite its serious conflicts with Pakistan’s human rights obligations, as pointed out by a number of national and international human rights groups”, said Zarifi. “This law is more like a license for the Government to continue its poor record of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detentions—all gross violations of human rights that are already committed at horrific levels in Pakistan.”
The ICJ urges the Pakistani Parliament to repeal the Protection of Pakistan Act, and review all national security legislation to ensure it is fully compatible with international human rights law and standards.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; email: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Advisor for Pakistan (London), t: +447889565691; email: reema.omer(a)icj.org