The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued the following press release concerning the Supreme Court of Pakistan's stay of executions ordered by the country's new military courts:
GENEVA (21 April 2015) – A group of United Nations independent experts* welcomed today the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to suspend death sentences imposed by military courts.
“We had expressed our concerns at the decision of Pakistan to rescind the unofficial six-year moratorium on death penalty for non-military personnel in terrorism-related cases,” the independent experts noted.
“Terrorism attacks should not prevent States from complying with the stringent requirements of international law for the imposition of the death penalty,” they reiterated.
International law requires that the death penalty may be imposed only in the context of a stringent functioning of the law and order system, so as to ensure the highest respect of due process and fair trial guarantees for the defendants. “Only full respect of these guarantees distinguishes capital punishment as possibly permitted under international law from an arbitrary execution,” the experts stressed.
“The administration of justice through military tribunals raises serious questions, particularly in terms of access to justice, independence and impartiality of the court, and respect for the fair trial rights of the accused,” noted the UN independent experts.
“Using military tribunals to try civilians in the name of national security, a state of emergency or counter-terrorism, runs against all relevant international and regional human rights standards and established case law.”
“Military tribunals should have jurisdiction only over military personnel who commit military offences or breaches of military discipline, and then only when those offences or breaches do not amount to serious human rights violations, and they should never have the power to impose the death penalty,” the experts further noted.
“We have repeatedly called on all States to assess whether the use of the death penalty is compatible with the right to life, as well as the inherent dignity of the human person, causes severe mental and physical pain or suffering and constitutes a violation, inter alia, of the absolute prohibition of torture,” the experts stated.
“We hope that the decision of the Supreme Court will provide an opportunity for all relevant actors in Pakistan to pursue a critically important dialogue aiming to address the questions relating to the legality of military tribunals, and the use of the death penalty, in line with Pakistan’s international human rights obligations.”
To this end, the experts stressed that ensuring a safe environment for judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other members of the justice system is of fundamental importance.
* The experts: Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention; Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and Ariel Dulitzky, Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearance.