LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed grave concern at the government’s decision to table a bill in favour of extending the tenure of military courts, which were otherwise due to end their term in January this year.
In a statement Saturday, the HRCP has categorically stated that the institution of military courts is an anomaly in any democratic order that claims to uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens.
“It is the state’s duty to uphold the rule of law in a manner that ensures that every citizen is entitled to due process and a fair trial. Equally, it is the state’s duty to uphold the rule of law to ensure the security of its citizens. These are not mutually exclusive obligations. Moreover, there is little evidence to show that military courts have succeeded in increasing respect for the rule of law. The perception of ‘speedy justice’ is no substitute for rooting out the militant extremism that led to the institution of these courts in the first instance or indeed for taking the time to train and equip domestic judicial and police mechanisms that are, and ought to remain, responsible for maintaining civilian law and order under a civilian mandate.”
“To argue against military courts is not to undermine the horrific circumstances under which they were set up, but the incidence of terrorism cases has decreased since the Army Public School massacre in 2015 – this implies there is no justification for allowing military courts to continue, the statement said.
HRCP also remains troubled by the secrecy surrounding military court proceedings, the extremely high conviction rate of these courts and the possible means used to achieve such rates. All these are against the norms of justice. The recent Peshawar High Court judgment, which set aside the convictions of over 70 persons tried in military courts, underscores these concerns, it added.
“Should the government succeed in extending the life of military courts, it will run the serious risk of undermining attempts to reform the criminal justice system – measures that are sorely needed, especially among the lower courts. Extending the life of military courts also contravenes Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Pakistan is signatory. In the long term, outsourcing justice is not the answer,” HRCP added.