Justice amiss

February 26, 2023

The extrajudicial killings are a grave concern in many countries with weak judicial systems

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xtrajudicial killings constitute a blatant violation of the fundamental right to be treated in accordance with law and, more importantly, the right to life. The issue of extrajudicial killings is a grave concern in many countries with weak judicial systems. Such killings are frequently employed as a means to eradicate political opponents, journalists, human rights defenders and other individuals who pose a threat to those in power. Additionally, they are used as a tool to intimidate communities and stifle dissent.

Extra-judicial killings have been an enduring problem in Pakistan. They are frequently perpetrated by law enforcement agencies, particularly the police and paramilitary forces, on the pretext of maintaining law and order. Nevertheless, such killings take place beyond the boundaries of the law and transgress the fundamental principles of human rights.

In many instances, such killings are carried out with impunity, implying that the perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions. This is frequently attributed to corruption, a lack of political will or a feeble judicial system. When those responsible for the killings are not brought to justice, it sends a signal that such acts are acceptable and can be carried out with impunity.

Extra-judicial killings represent a violation of international law and are prohibited under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties. The constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of person. It forbids torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as extra-judicial killings. It provides that no individual shall be deprived of life or liberty except in accordance with the law. Governments have a responsibility, therefore, to uphold the human rights of all individuals within their borders and ensure that those responsible for extra-judicial killings, custodial deaths, arrests and torture are held accountable.

There is a pressing need for robust political will, efficient judicial systems and independent media to hold governments accountable. For their part, governments must provide adequate training and resources to law enforcement agencies to ensure that they carry out their duties while respecting human rights. Civil society organisations and human rights defenders can play a pivotal role in exposing instances of extra-judicial killing and advocating for justice for victims. However, they often face significant risks in carrying out their work and require protection from the government and the international community.

The most fundamental attribute of extrajudicial killings is that they are perpetrated outside the bounds of the law. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has highlighted this feature by defining extra-legal executions as killings “which lack sanction or permission under the law or which cannot be justified or defended under any provision of law.” (1 Benazir Bhutto versus the President of Pakistan (PLD 1998 SC 388). It should be noted that the terms extrajudicial and extra-legal are used interchangeably.

In recent years, the media has started investigating cases of extra-judicial killings and exposing them to public scrutiny. However, media coverage of such incidents is sometimes superficial and a meaningful dialogue to influence law and policy has not occurred.

In cases of extrajudicial killing where the police fail to investigate, the magistrate concerned is duty-bound and may initiate an inquiry into extra-legal killings.

The blood money laws create another loophole for the wealthy and powerful to escape homicide convictions by coercing the victim’s heirs into accepting a financial settlement.

“Blood money is a part of sharia law that needs to be revised. The poor are frequently pressured to accept diyat. It wasn’t supposed to be a loophole for the rich. Unfortunately, its application in an unjust society is a contradiction,” says who?

Human rights activists say the law has been abused in the case of honour killings, where a male relative murders a female one and is then ‘pardoned’ by other family members.

In cases of extrajudicial killing where the police fail to investigate, the concerned magistrate is duty-bound and may initiate an inquiry into extra-legal killings. As the administrator of police in his jurisdiction, the magistrate must also maintain a system of checks and balances and issue orders for a judicial inquiry or the registration of a murder case in relation to extra-judicial killings. The law can then be set in motion, and an investigation can be conducted under Section156 of the Criminal Procedure Code, as was held in the 2000 YLR 85 Lahore case and the Lahore High Court judgement 2010 PCrLJ 1629.

One of the most prominent judgments of the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan regarding extrajudicial killings and custodial killings held that “Killing in encounter with police or law enforcing agencies, the justification of such agency has to show that the killing had come about during exercise of right of private defence by the agency which was in fact first attacked by the deceased and the court has to give findings whether the killing was justified or not, and if a person is taken into custody then he is bound to be dealt with strictly according to law and is to be punished only when the case is proved against him. Such a person cannot be allowed to be killed by any person while he is in custody and if this is done then that clearly shows that there is no writ of law but law of the jungle,” Supreme Court judgement PLD 1998 SC 388, Benazir Bhutto Vs Federation of Pakistan.

In Pakistan, a highly publicised case of suspects dying in police custody involves the gunning down of two suspects in the F-9 Park gang-rape incident. The incident took place on February 16, when according to the police, the two suspects were stopped by the police at a post near Sector D-12. The suspects attempted to flee and opened fire at the police, resulting in a crossfire where they sustained multiple bullet injuries. They were taken to the PIMS hospital, but succumbed to their injuries during surgery. The police later identified them as Iqbal Khan and Nawaz Khan and claimed that they were wanted by police in Taxila, Rawalpindi, Shalimar and Margallah for heinous crimes, including murder, robberies, mugging and rape. However, it has since then been claimed that the suspects had been arrested by Margallah police from the jurisdiction of Golra police station and had recorded confessional statements under Section 161 of the CrPC.

Governments have taken some steps to address the issues related to extra-judicial killings. For instance, the National Commission on Human Rights has been tasked with investigating cases of human rights violations, including such killings. However, the commission’s mandate is limited, and it lacks resources and authority to effectively address the issue.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has repeatedly emphasised that extra-judicial killings are illegal and unconstitutional. It has also taken some steps to address this issue. In particular, the court has ordered inquiries and investigations into cases of extra-judicial killing and directed law enforcement agencies to take measures to prevent such killings.

The writer is anadvocate of the High Court and a PhD scholar

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