The Pakistan Government must not bring back military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offences, the ICJ said today.
An earlier law giving military courts authority to try civilians lapsed after two years on 6 January 2017.
The use of military courts to try civilians is inconsistent with international standards, the ICJ recalled.
“Evidence from practice clearly shows that not only have military trials of civilians been blatantly unjust and in violation of the right to a fair trial, they have also been ineffective in reducing the very real threat of terrorism in Pakistan,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
According to media reports, the draft amendment, if adopted, would extend the “exceptional” use of military courts for another three years. The ICJ fears that repeated extensions risk making the practice effectively permanent.
It would also give military courts jurisdiction over any offence considered to be an act of terrorism, a broader mandate than 2015 constitutional amendment, which was applicable only to “terrorism motivated by religion or sectarianism” and where the accused were “members of proscribed organizations”.
“Bringing back military courts deflects attention from the real issue: the Government’s complete failure to enact necessary reforms to strengthen the criminal justice system in the two years military courts were in operation,” Zarifi said.
“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 Government has scheduled a meeting with opposition parties on 23 February in an attempt to achieve consensus over a constitutional amendment to restore military courts.
Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of parliament to be enacted.
While the ruling party has the requisite majority in the National Assembly (lower house), it appears to lack the numbers in the Senate (upper house) to pass the amendment.
The Pakistan Parliament must stand up to the executive in defense of the rights of all people in Pakistan, instead of allowing the administration to bring back—and even expand—a discredited and abusive process, the ICJ says.
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.
Military courts have convicted 274 people in the two years since they have been used to try civilian terror suspects. . One hundred and sixty-one people were sentenced to death and 113 people were given prison sentences. At least 12 people given death sentences have been executed by hanging.
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 based on “confessions” without adequate safeguards against torture and ill treatment.
The ICJ unequivocally opposes the use of the death penalty as a violation of the right to life and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Pakistan (Lahore), t: +923214968434; e: reema.omer(a)icj.org