AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Pakistan: New anti-terrorist courts breach fair trial norms
* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
5 February 2002
Including military officers in panels of judges which try
'terrorist' offences will undermine the independence of the
judiciary which is a key guarantor of the protection of human
rights, Amnesty International said today. The organization urged
the Government of Pakistan to withdraw this provision of the new
Anti-terrorism amendment ordinance.
President Musharraf had indicated in his speech to the
nation on 12 January that sectarian violence had undermined the
writ of the government and needed to be brought to an end. He
said that in the year 2001 alone, 400 people had been killed in
Pakistan on account of "sectarianism and terrorism". Besides
strengthening the law enforcement apparatus, the justice system
needed to be strengthened and made more efficient to curb
sectarian violence, he added.
The new ordinance issued on 31 January provides for new
courts. They will include one senior military officer nominated
by the government besides two civilian judicial officers
constituting a three-member bench headed by a civilian judge. The
courts will sit in cantonments or jail premises to ensure the
security of accused, witnesses and the judiciary. A senior
officer said, "these are not military courts in the true sense,
but these courts will comprise civil judges and military officers
to speedily dispose of cases of all those involved in
The courts in Pakistan, including anti-terrorist courts
in operation since 1997 which are to try cases speedily, have a
heavy backlog of cases leading to long delays in the dispensation
of justice. Cases involving sectarian murders often collapse as
people are afraid to come forward and testify. Judges are known
to have delayed giving judgments for fear of becoming the target
of violence themselves. Violence on court premises has increased
over time with judicial officers, accused persons and witnesses
attacked, injured or killed. These factors taken together have
led to an atmosphere of impunity in which people have committed
sectarian violence in the knowledge that they would not be
punished, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of such violence.
"While urgent steps are needed to ensure that those
accused of sectarian violence are brought to justice speedily and
to ensure that those involved in the criminal justice process are
safe, having the military participate in the judicial process is
not permissible. Justice must not only be done but also be seen
to be done and dispensed by those properly qualified to do so and
independent of the executive," Amnesty International said.
Trial by special tribunals including military staff
contravenes Principle 5 of the United Nations Basic Principles on
the Independence of the Judiciary, endorsed by the General
Assembly in 1985. It states: "Everyone has the right to be tried
by ordinary courts or tribunals using established legal
procedures. Tribunals that do not use the duly established
procedures of the legal process shall not be created to displace
the jurisdiction belonging to the ordinary courts of judicial
The anti-terrorism law was passed in August 1997; it gave police
wide-ranging powers to arrest suspects and established special
anti-terrorism courts. Amnesty International at the time pointed
out the manifold ways in which the law violated human rights
particularly the right to a fair trial. The Supreme Court of
Pakistan declared that the Anti-terrorism law as a whole was not
unconstitutional but that 12 key sections of the law were
unconstitutional and needed to be amended. Several months later
this was done by an Amendment Act. Dozens of people have
meanwhile been tried and convicted by these special courts which
still fail to provide a fair trial. Most of the death sentences
in Pakistan are imposed by anti- terrorist courts.
In November 1998, summary military courts were set up to
try, within three days, civilians suspected of specified serious
offences. Several people were tried and convicted by these
special courts; several were sentenced to death and two men were
executed before the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared these
courts unconstitutional and ordered them disbanded.
The new anti-terrorist law, which replaced the old one of 1997,
came into force on 31 January 2002. It will remain in force until
30 November 2002 but may be extended.
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