International NGOs Condemn Pakistan for Trying Civilians for their Crimes in Military Courts
Team Pakistan Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence.
Following the arrest of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan on 9 May 2023, thousands swept the streets to protest against his arrest (Human Rights Watch, 31 May 2023). Violence quickly spread across the nation which led Khan's supporters to loot businesses, set fire to civilian objects, and attack military and government targets (Hussain, 31 May 2023). This led to the Police arresting many supporters and charging them with “criminal intimidation, rioting, and assault on government officials” and breaking into government buildings (Human Rights Watch, 31 May 2023). As a result, the government ordered those who destroyed military targets and government buildings to face trial in a military court (Hussain, 31 May 2023). However, trying civilians in a military court does not comply with international human rights law for the following reasons. Firstly, it violates Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Pakistan is a signatory to. Article 14 states that “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals [...] and everyone shall be entitled to a fair trial and hearing” (UNGA ICCPR, Article 14). Secondly, it does not guarantee a fair trial as judges in a military court work closely with the government which may influence the judgment (Human Rights Watch, 31 May 2023). Also, given the current state of Pakistan and its judicial system, it is expected that defendants will not have access to evidence that is in their favor which further hinders their right to a fair trial (Human Rights Watch, 31 May 2023). Therefore, it is evident that Pakistan needs to improve its human rights records to be able to comply with its international human rights obligations.
Sources and further readings:
Hussain, A. (2023, May 31). HRW urges Pakistan to not try civilians in military courts. Human Rights News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/31/hrw-urges-pakistan-to-not-try-civilians-in-military-courts
Pakistan: Don’t try civilians in military courts. Human Rights Watch. (2023, May 31). https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/05/31/pakistan-dont-try-civilians-military-courts
United Nations General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed 16 December 1966, entry into force 23 March 1976).