South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Islamabad – International Commission of Jurists Tuesday expressed concerns that with less than a year left in the expiry of the extension given to military courts, no reforms in the legal system had been initiated yet.

“Regrettably – though not unexpectedly – with less than a year left before the extension under the 23rd Constitutional Amendment is set to expire, no such reforms have taken place,” the ICJ said in a statement.

The secret military trials of civilians charged with terrorism-related offences are a continuing breach of Pakistan’s international human rights obligations, the handout said.

Military courts were first empowered to try civilians for certain terrorism-related offences on 7 January 2015 by the 21st amendment to the Constitution and amendments to the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, which were in operation for a period of two years.

One year ago, on 31 March 2017, President Mamnoon Hussain signed into law the 23rd amendment to the Constitution to renew military courts’ jurisdiction over civilians until 6 January 2019.

“The renewal of military trials for civilians accused of terrorism last year has only weakened the rule of law, and undermined the right to fair trial and equality before the law in Pakistan,” said Matt Pollard, ICJ’s senior legal adviser.

“Pakistan should end the role of military courts in such cases, and instead strengthen the ability of ordinary courts and law enforcement to ensure investigations and trials that are both fair and effective, in line with its domestic law and international human rights obligations,” he added.

According to the military’s media office and information collected by the ICJ, military courts have convicted 346 people since January 2015, out of which 196 people had been sentenced to death and 150 people had been given prison sentences.

At least 56 people have been hanged.

Only one person has been acquitted.

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.

Such use of military courts to try civilians is inconsistent with international fair trial standards, and the imposition of the death penalty after such trials violates the right to life, the watchdog said.

It further said that despite acknowledging possible denial of fair trial, the ordinary courts have thus far refused to provide relief to the petitioners due to their lack of jurisdiction over military courts.

The NAP contemplated military courts only as a short-term “solution” to try “terrorists”, on the basis that they would be operational only for a short period, during which the government would bring about necessary “reforms in criminal courts system to strengthen the anti-terrorism institutions.”

However, with less than a year left before the extension under the 23rd Constitutional Amendment is set to expire, no such reforms have taken place.


Updated On: April 04, 2018