Sunday, May 7, 2017

Op-ed on Kulbhushan Jadhav's death sentence pronounced by a Military Court in Pakistan

My op-ed published in The Quint today:

Jadhav and Pakistan's Military (In)Justice

Some laws are strange and some even stranger.

In former Naval Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case, what exactly is the ‘appeal’ that Pakistan’s Defence Minister was talking about? Pakistan’s military law unsurprisingly prohibits the challenge to military verdicts in the superior civil judiciary. Unsurprising also is the fact that the so-called provision of ‘appeal’ under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) is a sham, for it is placed before a body comprising serving Army officers who are expected to examine military verdicts confirmed by their own Army Chief. It is not just a plea from Caesar to Caesar’s wife -- as the Supreme Court of India had remarked about Indian military law -- but from Caesar to Caesar himself.

Jadhav, being a retired officer, is a civilian. While the international community and many legal luminaries and bar associations within Pakistan have protested the trial of civilians by military courts, the legal challenges so far have remained unsuccessful. The star qualities of military courts in Pakistan, if I may call them so, albeit sarcastically, are quite revealing. These courts comprise serving officers of the military having no inkling of law, legal procedures or international norms, the trials are held in secret locations, no counsel is provided, no copy of the decision is provided, there is no professional and independent prosecution or defence or even examination of evidence, the conviction rate is almost 100% with custodial confessions and all accused magically pleading ‘guilty’ and then there is no real appeal. These trials run contrary to established principles of justice much cherished in democracies characterized by the rule of law and militate against the basic norms propounded by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, especially Article 14, which calls for fair and public hearings in a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.

Interestingly, some would say that even Indian military courts are not much different from those of Pakistan. True, on a very conceptual level at the first superficial blush, but going deeper there are sharp dissimilarities. Civilians are not tried by our military courts. Courts martial as also other administrative actions of the military are challengeable and remain under the sharp focus of the superior judiciary. Admittedly, though our system of military law also is in need of relatable reform on the aspect of independence from command influence and prosecutorial autonomy, we are simply different since no organisation or entity in India is beyond question or judicial review. Through the times, our High Courts and the Supreme Court have stood as a shield against administrative tyranny for the populace, military personnel included, a reality much celebrated not only by our citizenry but also by the State. What further sets us apart is that despite the inherent resistance to change, there is still openness and acceptability of variance of opinion and there are voices within the defence services and the government which would like to see progressive reform. The report of a committee of experts which had rendered strong recommendations on military justice reform is also currently under active consideration of the government. Further, in India there is not even a trace of primitive punishments such as death by stoning or amputation which the PAA proudly proclaims in Section 60. This however does not mean that we can rest on our laurels, and paradoxically, Jadhav’s predicament provides us with an opportunity for honest introspection of our system too. A high conviction rate and faster processes in the military, even in India, may reflect efficiency but not necessarily all-round judiciousness. While justice delayed is justice denied, justice hurried could also well be justice buried. It must never be forgotten that the aim of a trial is to secure justice, not conviction.

Though it would not be proper to dwell upon what might be the future of the issue so as not to jeopardize the diplomatic and legal efforts, or even to predict whether the sentence would ultimately be reduced and then a Presidential pardon effectuated on give and take basis, suffice it to say that de hors the merits of the case, the least Jadhav deserved was a fair trial and it would only be proper for the world community and the civil society within Pakistan to strongly oppose these dehumanizing extra-constitutional kangaroo courts which fail every single test of law, conscience and civility.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are subject to moderation and must be submitted under your real name. Anonymous comments will not be posted (even though the form seems to permit them).