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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Pakistan: New anti-terrorist courts breach fair trial norms

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  • Islamic News and Information Network
    Assalamu alaikum, * News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International * 5 February 2002 ASA 33/004/2002 22/02 Including military
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2002
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      * News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
      International *

      5 February 2002
      ASA 33/004/2002

      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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