Wednesday May 29, 2024

Military courts

By Dr Farrukh Saleem
October 29, 2023
Army troops stand guard in the red zone after the arrest of former PM Imran Khan. — AFP/File
Army troops stand guard in the "red zone" after the arrest of former PM Imran Khan. — AFP/File

Turkey has had civilian trials in military courts. Most of these trials were regarded as ‘fair’ and in accordance with ‘legal standards’. Civilian cases have been tried in military courts in Bangladesh, where most cases were noted for their adherence to ‘due process’. Nigeria has used military courts to try civilians. While some trials faced criticism most were considered ‘fair’. Colombia has had civilian cases tried in military courts. A number of these cases came under international scrutiny and were declared ‘fair’.

The Philippines has held civilian trials in military courts. Some cases have been criticized for being ‘unfair’, while a majority have adhered to ‘legal standards’. India has seen civilian trials in military courts, where a large number of cases were considered ‘fair’ and in accordance with ‘legal principles’. Peru held civilian trials in military courts. Some have been criticized, while a large majority have been considered ‘fair’. Sri Lanka has used military courts for civilian cases where a large number of these cases ‘met legal standards’.

Ukraine has utilized military courts for civilian cases. A number of these trials have been recognized for adhering to ‘due process’. Venezuela has tried civilians in military courts, with varying degrees of ‘fairness’, depending on the case and the political context. Indonesia has conducted civilian trials in military courts. In most of these cases, these trials were considered ‘fair and just’. Thailand has used military courts for civilian trials, whereby a large number of these cases were regarded as ‘fair’, particularly during periods of political unrest.

In Britain, as a response to the 2011 England Riots, ‘summary courts’ were established. In the US, ‘summary courts’ were established under the Federal Riots Act. Italy implemented ‘fast-track courts,’ Japan established ‘summary courts,’ and Canada invoked the Emergency Measures Act to create ‘special courts.’ France, under the State of Emergency Act, and Spain, through the Organic Law on Public Security, also instituted ‘special courts’.

Here’s a partial list of countries that have tried civilians in military courts: United States, Egypt, China, Turkey, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Thailand, South Korea, Philippines, Iran, Syria, Russia, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Why are civilians brought before military courts? There are several reasons for this. One scenario arises when a civilian is accused of a crime closely connected to or having an impact on the military. This category encompasses offences like assaulting military personnel or property, espionage, and treason. Another situation arises in the face of a national security crisis or emergency, where the government may believe that military courts are better suited to swiftly and efficiently address the case.

Pakistan has established a comprehensive legal framework that regulates the military justice system, with a strong commitment to upholding ‘legal principles’ and respecting ‘human rights’. Within this framework, there are robust safeguards in place to protect the rights of civilians who may be accused in military courts. This framework also unequivocally upholds the fundamental principle of 'presumption of innocence until proven guilty.' Civilians are ensured the right to legal representation, thus guaranteeing their ability to effectively present their defense. Furthermore, a well-defined mechanism for the appeal of military court decisions exists, providing an avenue to meticulously review the fairness of the trial and the legality of the verdict.

Two key conclusions can be drawn. First, the establishment of ‘special courts’ is not an unusual occurrence; it is a well-established practice in both developing and developed nations. Second, military courts have demonstrated the ability to adhere to the principles of ‘due process’ and international ‘human rights.’

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad. He tweets/posts @saleemfarrukh and can be reached at: