Pakistan's National Assembly has passed new legislation amending the Army Act 1952 to protect military personnel from prosecution for their role in military court proceedings. It also limits appellate review. Consider this editorial in The Nation:
The amendment to the Army Act 1952 has been in the works for a while now, and on Wednesday the National assembly gave assent to it. The amendment has made its way through all the legislative formalities, yet that does not automatically mean it has been analysed or that it is beneficial to the nation. The bill has been bundled through both houses of parliament without adequate debate, ignoring the safeguards recommended by the Supreme Court, and without allowing any changes to the clauses. The military’s prerogative as visible throughout the proceedings, and the Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N) dutifully rubber-stamped the orders from Rawalpindi.
The amendment provides legal cover to the military personnel involved in the military courts, as well as providing retrospective authority to the arrests made by the army and the law enforcement agencies. In effect, it prevents military personnel from being charged with negligence or dereliction of duty during military court proceedings and limits the ability of the convicted to appeal against the decision. This means that the military can happily continue the “practice of military courts pronouncing death penalty against unnamed accused by unnamed judges sitting at an undisclosed location and without any mention of charges or defense pleas”.
The military was already protected from legal challenge under a presidential ordinance since February; the passing of this bill makes that protection permanent. Herein lies the fault. The military courts by definition are meant to exist for only a certain amount of time, an ordinance, which also needs to be renewed periodically, would have provided the required cover to the military courts to operate. Amending the Army Act 1952 entrenches these protections, allowing the army to use them to safeguard its officials and authorise its arrests in matters completely unrelated to the war on terror. An ordinance would have lost effect at the passing of a certain time, this law needs to be actively revoked if future governments wanted too – which, considering the time and effort that needs to be devoted to such an action, seems unlikely.
Even if this law needed to be amended, the government should have incorporated the safeguards suggested by the Supreme Court, which allowed an appeal procedure. Yet the government seems to have lost all bearing of right and wrong in the sickening rush to be pliant to the men in boots.Additional information on the legislation can be found here.
Honk if you think Pakistan will extend the legislation authorizing military courts to try civilians past the initial two-year period.