Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Recommendations from the UN Committee Against Torture

The UN's Committee Against Torture has issued its Concluding Observations with respect to Pakistan. You can find them here. Of note (highlighting added):
Torture in the Context of Counter-Terrorism Efforts 
12. While recognizing the State party’s ongoing efforts to protect its population from violence by certain non-State terrorist groups, the Committee is seriously concerned that the State party’s counter-terrorism legislation, particularly the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 (ATA), eliminates legal safeguards against torture that are otherwise provided to persons deprived of their liberty, by allowing security agencies and civil armed forces to detain any person suspected of committing an offence under the Act for up to three months without review or the possibility of a habeas petition and allowing the detention without trial of up to a year of any person suspected of being involved in the activities of a proscribed organization. The Committee is further concerned that the ATA allows courts to admit confessions as evidence so long as the District Superintendent of Police is present when the accused confessed, in contrast with civilian courts where confessions are only admissible in court if made to a magistrate. The Committee is also seriously concerned that the State party has authorized military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offences, most recently in the 23rd amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, approved in 2017, particularly in view of the lack of independence of military court judges, which are within the military hierarchy, and practices of such courts including holding closed trials. The Committee is also concerned by the very broad powers given to the Army to detain people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities without charge or judicial supervision in internment centers under the Actions in Aid of Civil Power regulations 2011 (arts. 2 and 15). 
13. The Committee recalls that article 2(2) of the Convention states “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever [...] may be invoked as a justification of torture” and its general comment No. 2 (2007), states that exceptional circumstances include “any threat of terrorist acts.” In this regard, the Committee urges the State party to:

(a) Repeal or amend the Anti-Terrorism Act and other relevant legislation to ensure that all persons deprived of their liberty have access to legal safeguards against torture, including prompt presentation before a magistrate and the possibility of a habeas petition, and to ensure that confessions obtained outside the presence of a magistrate are inadmissible as evidence;

(b) End the resort to military courts for terrorism-related prosecutions, transfer criminal cases against civilians from military courts to civilian courts and provide the opportunity for appeal in civilian courts of cases involving civilians already adjudicated under military jurisdiction; and

(c) Repeal or amend the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulations 2011 in order to abolish the military’s power to establish internment centers in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) and ensure that no one is held in secret or incommunicado detention anywhere in the territory of the State party as detaining individuals in such conditions constitutes, per se, a violation of the Convention. So long as such internment centers remain in operation, ensure that independent monitors and family members of those detained, are able to access such places of detention.

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