ICJ terms SC judgment a blow to human rights
ISLAMABAD: The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has expressed disappointment over the Aug 5 Supreme Court majority judgment upholding the 21st Amendment and termed it “a blow to human rights and the rule of law in Pakistan”.
“This judgment squarely puts Pakistan at odds with its international obligations and weakens the Supreme Court’s hard won reputation as the last resort for protecting the rights of Pakistani people,” ICJ’s Asia Director Sam Zarifi said in a press release issued on Friday.
Also read: Six judges declare 21st Amendment, military courts illegal
“The court has missed an important opportunity to reverse the militarisation of justice in progress under the guise of combating terrorism and to reinforce independence of the judiciary in the country,” he said.
Established in 1952 and comprising 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, the ICJ endeavours to promote and protect human rights through the rule of law by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems.
In a split decision on the validity of the 21st Amendment, the ICJ regretted, nine judges of the Supreme Court held that trial of suspected terrorists, including civilians, by military courts was within the constitutional framework of the country and met principles of criminal justice. It said the judges also ruled that individuals who claimed to, or were known to belong to “any terrorist group or organisation using the name of religion or a sect” constituted a valid classification allowing for differential treatment under the constitution.
Six of the judges in their dissenting judgment expressed the view that the 21st Amendment was incompatible with the right to fair trial and independence of the judiciary. Two judges did not give any opinion on the merits but observed that the Supreme Court did not have the jurisdiction to review constitutional amendments, the ICJ recalled.
It said trial of civilians in military courts for terrorism-related offences was incompatible with international standards which required that those accused of any criminal offence were guaranteed a fair trial by an independent, impartial and competent tribunal.
But it said that the Supreme Court had not met the international standards of fair trial and independence of the judiciary.
The majority judgment also goes against the previous SC rulings on military courts. In the past, the ICJ recalled, the court had reasoned that military courts did not meet the requirements of independence and impartiality; the establishment of military courts for trial of civilians amounted to creating a “parallel judicial system”, and that impeding the right to a fair trial could not be justified on the basis of the public emergency or the “doctrine of necessity”.
Military courts in Pakistan also had the power to award death sentences, the ICJ said, adding that on April 2 this year the military courts convicted seven people of undisclosed offences in secret trials. Of them, six were sentenced to death and one was sentenced to life in prison. The Supreme Court’s judgment had cleared the way for their execution, it regretted.
The ICJ said it opposed the capital punishment in all cases without exception. The death penalty constitutes a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. Where permissible under international standards, the commission emphasised, the death penalty might only be imposed pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court after a legal process which afforded all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial.