Pakistan wants to try civilian protesters under military laws
TEAM PAKISTAN Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence.
After the arrest of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 9th, 2023, his supporters took to the streets to protest. Among other things, protesters attacked different Pakistan’s state assets and military installations (Al Jazeera, 2023). Leaders of the country decided that these rioters would be tried under army law even though they are civilians. This decision was announced on May 16th, after a meeting of the National Security Committee, which was chaired by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (Al Jazeera, 2023). He also condemned the violence of the protests and stated that they fall under the category of “terrorism” because of the various attacks on the army’s and government's assets and buildings (Al Jazeera, 2023). Pakistan is the only country in the region that allows civilian trials in military courts also for non-military offences, including terrorism (Amnesty International, 2023).
The decision was, however, met with criticism as civilians cannot be tried under army laws according to international law. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a civil rights group in Pakistan, strongly opposed it, as well as Amnesty International. The problem is that military courts work under the Army Act and related legislation, meaning that they do not have to to the same standard of trials that regular courts are obliged to (Al Jazeera, 2023). Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Regional Director for South Asia at Amnesty International, shared that: “It is alarming to note that the Pakistani Army has stated its intention to try civilians under military laws, possibly in military courts. Trying civilians in military courts is contrary to international law.” (Amnesty International, 2023). She then continued by citing the Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Pakistan is also a State party, that guarantees the right to a trial before a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law (Amnesty International, 2023). However, military courts in Pakistan are not independent and specialised for the armed forces, and Amnesty International has already reported on several human rights violations stemming from trying civilians in military courts in the country (Amnesty International, 2023). Thus, they believe that any trial of civilian protesters under army laws in military court would represent a violation of Pakistan’s obligation under international law.
Sources and further readings:
Al Jazeera. (2023, May 16). Pakistani government to try violent protesters under army laws. Al Jazeera. Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/16/pakistani-government-to-try-violent-protesters-under-army-laws
Amnesty International. (2023, May 16). Pakistan: Civilians must not be tried under military laws. Amnesty International. Retrieved May 18, 2023, from https://www.dawn.com/news/1751782/