Civilian trials in military courts now
25 Aug 2015 - 0:00
ISLAMABAD: The government of Pakistan has quietly allowed the military courts to try thousands of suspects detained at different internment centres by passing an ordinance in February this year.
After the December 16, 2014, attack on the Army Public School Peshawar, the government had introduced the 21st constitutional amendment to allow for military courts.
On January 6, parliament passed the amendment that enabled military courts to try civilians facing various charges related to terrorism, militancy, sectarian violence, waging war against the state, armed forces and law enforcement agencies.
However, this constitutional amendment and the subsequent amendments to the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) did not allow for the trial of those detained in the internment centres.
According to retired Lt-Col Tahir Mehmood, of the army’s legal directorate, the initial amendment to the PAA was silent about the internment centres detainees.
“The amendments in the PAA made in January this year empowered jurisdiction of the military courts to those suspects who were not subject to the army act earlier,” he explained, adding that the 21st amendment gave constitutional cover to the amendments made in the PAA.
A former officer of the army’s judge advocate general (JAG) branch, the military’s legal directorate, said that there were over 6,000 suspects detained at different internment centres and that these suspects were captured in military operations since 2009.
During the hearings of some missing persons’ cases in courts, the military did admit to holding some of them in custody; it said these men were captured in the operational areas and then detained in the internment centres.
The detention of these suspects was of concern to the military.
As a result, while the petitions against the 21 amendment were pending in the apex court, the ministry of law and justice on February 25 promulgated an ordinance for further extending the ambit of the PAA to the persons under the custody of the armed forces.
This has now allowed the military courts to hold the trial of the men that had been detailed earlier, before the 21 amendment was passed. The trial of the detained suspects was never addressed in the earlier amendments in the PAA (which followed once the 21 amendment was passed) in January this year. In the same month, the jurisdiction of PAA has been extended to the Gilgit-Baltistan through a presidential order.