Rights Groups Oppose Trial of Juvenile Suspects by Army Courts

M Zulqernain/Lahore
Rights Groups Oppose Trial of Juvenile Suspects by Army Courts

The Pakistan Government was today asked by human rights groups not to try juvenile terror suspects by the newly-constituted military courts as it violates the country's obligations under international law.

Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said the proceedings in military courts, which are far from ensuring special care and additional protection for juveniles, fell well short of national and international standards requiring fair trials before independent and impartial courts.

They said the judges of such courts were not trained on protecting the rights of the child and the principles related to juvenile justice.

The letter said, "The 21st constitutional amendment and the corresponding amendments to the Army Act, 1952, give military courts jurisdiction to try all persons, including civilians, alleged to have committed certain offences related to terrorism.

"The amendments provide that the government may transfer a case related to the enumerated offences under the Army Act from any court (which prima facie includes juvenile courts) to a military tribunal for trial...The amendments do not expressly exclude juveniles from their ambit."    

The ICJ and HRCP said these provisions have created the possibility that the requirement under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO), 2002, whereby juvenile courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction to try individuals below 18 years of age, could be overridden in certain terrorism-related cases.

"In the circumstances, it is important that the government clarifies and ensures that in implementing the law, individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime may not be tried in military courts, not least because a trial before such a court would violate Pakistan's obligations under international law," they said.

ICJ and HRCP reminded the government that under international standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan ratified in 2010 and Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Pakistan ratified in 1990 juveniles were entitled to all internationally recognised fair trial guarantees that applied to adults, as well as special care and additional protection.

"HRCP and the ICJ urge you to clarify the Government's policy on referral of juveniles to military courts for trial, ensure that in its implementation of the amended law, no case of an individual who was under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime is referred or transferred to military courts for trial," the letter to the government said.

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