Sunday, January 22, 2017

Transparency and Pakistan's military courts

Maria Kari has written this thoughtful column for The Express Tribune, focusing on one of the cases tried by military court under Pakistan's 21st Amendment. Excerpt:
The military court’s speedily concluded; heavily veiled decision was conducted with almost no transparency or accountability. But that is not the part that frightens the most because the military court’s covert and obscure execution of justice in the case of Saad Aziz will do nothing to stop the future Saad Aziz’s from taking the lives of future Sabeen Mahmud’s. 
It is no secret that improprieties are rampant in Pakistan’s civilian trials. Today, despite reaching the end of its mandated two-year term, the government has failed to provide any evidence suggesting that major steps were taken to fix the inadequacies of the civilian criminal justice system. 
But this does not mean that special military courts are the cure to the problem of civilian courts. This is because military justice, when compared to the civilian criminal justice system, is simply different. 
The hallmark of a judiciary is its independence. In a country like Pakistan where the army boasts remarkable amounts of power, a military-run judicial system is nothing short of a puppet show – one in which select political parties and military folk are the puppeteers.
It does not matter how convinced you are of an accused’s guilt. It does not matter if the accused has proudly confessed to the crime. Failure to protect the rights of any accused will taint not just his case but will spread like a cancer to all future defendants. 
A scrupulous, well-documented trial would’ve demonstrated Saad Aziz’s guilt for the world. Instead all we got was a slipshod trial that left far too much space for doubt and far too many unanswered questions. 
Special military courts have no place in a democracy because the secrecy they embody and their sheer lack of transparency is a great danger to the rights of Pakistani citizens. At their very core, military justice carries the basic assumption that the regulators of our justice system do not need to be careful in determining whether an accused is really guilty. 
Pakistan needs fair and impartial trials so we can begin to understand and tackle the existence of those amongst us who will go as far as murder in order to silence us. And Sabeen Mahmud’s loved ones deserve a fair trial so they can, with confidence; begin the long process of healing, knowing that the man who had robbed them of their world has been punished commensurate to his crime.

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