The ICJ urged the Pakistan government to withdraw its proposal to reinstate and widen the scope of military trials for civilians.
“Bringing back military courts is an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue: the Government’s failure to enact reforms to strengthen the criminal justice system during the two years the 2015-2017 military courts were in operation,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
Bills to amend the Constitution of Pakistan and the Army Act, 1952, to extend the jurisdiction of military courts to try a wide variety of terrorism-related offences, were introduced before the National Assembly (lower house of parliament) on Friday, 10 March.
The “terrorism-related” offences include, among others: abducting any person for ransom; raising arms of waging war against Pakistan; causing any person injury of death; using or designing vehicles for terrorist attacks; creating terror or insecurity in Pakistan; and attempting, aiding or abetting any of these acts.
The new amendments are also applicable in all cases where the accused commit “grave and violent acts against the State”. The mandatory requirement to belong to a group that uses “the name of religion or sect”, as introduced by the 21st Amendment and corresponding amendments to the Army Act introduced in 2015, is no longer applicable.
“The expansion of military courts’ jurisdiction over all ‘grave and violent acts against the State’ creates the possibility that these courts could be used against a wide variety of people, including those who are legitimately exercising their rights to speech, association, and assembly,” added Zarifi.
According to the preambles of the bills, an “extraordinary situation” and a “grave and unprecedented threat to the integrity of Pakistan” still exist in the country, and military courts are being revived because they “yielded positive results in combatting terrorism” in the two years they were in operation.
“The military courts have not had any positive results in combating terrorism, given the country’s ongoing problem with acts of terrorism and armed insurgents,” said Zarifi. “Instead, military trials of civilians have further eroded the rule of law and weakened the government’s legitimacy in providing justice and defending the rights of people in Pakistan.”
Military courts constituted under the 21st Amendment convicted 274 people in the two years during which they were in operation, from 7 January 2015 to 6 January 2017. Of those 274 convictions, 161 people were sentenced to death and 113 people were given prison sentences. At least 17 people given death sentences have been executed by hanging. The enabling legislation for these courts lapsed on 6 January 2017 pursuant to a two-year sunset clause.
The ICJ recalled that the use of military courts to try civilians is inconsistent with international standards.
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.
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 (London), t: +447889565691; e: reema.omer(a)icj.orgNewsWeb stories