Saturday, January 5, 2019

Reema Omer on Pakistan's military courts

Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists has written this excellent column for Dawn about the proposal to extend, yet again, the power of Pakistan's military courts to try civilians (contrary to international human rights requirements). One disturbing aspect on which observers may not have focused is the government's position that the current extension expires two years from passage rather than two years from its effective date (which was retroactive by three months). In other words, the authorities have, through some fancy footwork by the lawyers, simply helped themselves to an extra three months:
Despite earlier promises that military courts were only temporary and ‘exceptional’, after the expiration of the 21st Amendment, on March 31, 2017, parliament enacted the 23rd Amendment and amendments to the Army Act to renew military courts’ jurisdiction over civilians. The amendments were given retrospective effect from Jan 7, 2017, and were due to lapse two years after their date of ‘commencement’. According to the law ministry, the expanded jurisdiction of military courts will expire on March 30, 2019 (even though earlier reports suggested the amendments will expire on Jan 6, 2019) — two years after the date of ‘operation’ of the 23rd Amendment).
Ms. Omer also writes:
Military courts have targeted the Constitution’s fundamental principles: separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, and protection of fundamental rights. In every case where information is available, accused persons were denied the right to counsel of choice; they were denied a public hearing; they were denied the right to appeal before a civilian court; and nearly 98 percent of convictions were based on ‘confessions’ obtained without adequate safeguards against torture or other ill treatment. The security apparatus also failed to disclose the exact charges against the accused or provide convicts copies of a judgement with evidence and reasons for the verdict.

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