Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A useful explainer of Pakistan's latest military justice legislation

Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists has written an outstanding explanation of Pakistan's latest military justice legislation, for Dawn. Excerpt:
That these provisions are purported ‘safeguards’ shows how uninformed most members of parliament are about how military trials of civilians actually work in practice. 
For example, the laws under which civilians are tried by military courts (ie the Army Act, 1952 and the Army Act Rules, 1954) already recognised the fundamental rights of defence, including the right to engage counsel of choice. They also provided that rules of evidence in military courts’ proceedings “shall be the same as those which are followed in criminal courts.” 
However, these safeguards are routinely violated in practice during military courts’ proceedings. These violations are made possible by the opacity and secrecy with which military courts operate and the complete lack of oversight or possibility of appeal to civilian courts. 
For example, in every case where families of convicts filed review petitions before high courts and the Supreme Court, the military claimed the convicted persons had “willingly” chosen to forego the right to engage a civilian lawyer or to present a defence.  
Also, in 95 per cent of cases, the convicts reportedly “confessed” to their crimes. In ordinary murder cases tried by regular courts, convictions on the basis of judicial confessions are even less than 5pc.
Read the entire piece -- depressing though it be. Next comes litigation.

The Editor continues to believe that a putative constitutional amendment that has a two-year sunset is a constitutional amendment in name only, and should not be permitted to trump other provisions. Perhaps this point will be raised in the inevitable legal challenges.

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