Islamabad - The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the trial before military courts of persons accused of committing terrorism related offences and belonging to ‘any terrorist group or organisation, using the name of religion or a sect’ is a blow to human rights and the rule of law in Pakistan, said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Friday.

In a split decision on the 21st Amendment, nine judges of the Supreme Court held that the trial of suspected terrorists, including civilians, by military courts was within the constitutional framework of the country and met principles of criminal justice. “This judgment squarely puts Pakistan at odds with its international obligations and weakens the Supreme Court’s hard won reputation as the last resort for protecting the rights of Pakistani people,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director. “The Court has missed an important opportunity to reverse the militarization of justice in progress under the guise of combating terrorism and to reinforce independence of the judiciary in the country.”

The trial of civilians in military courts for terrorism-related offences is incompatible with international standards, which require that those accused of any criminal offence are guaranteed a fair trial by an independent, impartial and competent tribunal, said the ICJ.

The Supreme Court, however, did not engage with international standards of fair trial and independence of the judiciary. At least eight judges of the Supreme Court were of the opinion that it is for the federal government alone to ensure that their conduct “does not offend against the public international law or any international commitment made by the state”.

“It is very disappointing that the Supreme Court has abdicated its primary role in acting with the other branches of the State to implement its obligations under international law,” added Zarifi. “International law is clear - all organs of the state, including the judiciary, must respect international human rights commitments, which include the right to a fair trial. Indeed, it is a core judicial responsibility to state what the law provides, whether the source of the law is international or domestic.”

The majority judgement also goes against previous Supreme Court’s rulings on military courts. In the past, the court had reasoned that military courts do not meet the requirements of independence and impartiality; the establishment of military courts for trial of civilians amounts to creating a “parallel judicial system”; and that impeding the right to a fair trial cannot be justified on the basis of the public emergency or the “doctrine of necessity.