Wednesday 3 November 2010

Why Pakistan's anti-terror courts don't work

Pakistani journalist Huma Yusuf has produced a very helpful note  on Pakistan's anti-terrorism courts for the East-West Center, which shows some of the problems of bringing terrorism suspects to justice in that country.
For example, the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act does not apply to residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, no matter where in Pakistan they are arrested. Instead, they must be dealt with under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, drawn up by the British in 1848 and designed to enforce collective responsibility. As Yusuf notes: "When suspected militants are repatriated to FATA, they often rejoin the insurgency."
Residents of the so-called "settled areas" are also not subject to national laws and often go free. The decision to send a terror suspect to the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), for example, is at the discretion of the officer who conducted the arrest.
Suspects who remain in detention are under the jurisdiction of joint investigation teams, including officials from the police and intelligence services. These teams rarely have access to the site of the arrest and have to rely on eyewitness accounts of military personnel. This means militants are frequently acquitted or serve only minor sentences.
Yusuf notes that according to a recent report by the Punjab Public Prosecution Department, suspected terrorists are freed when witnesses subject to intimidation refuse to testify. Between 1 January and 30 September 2010 proceedings were initiated in 1,324 cases registered under the ATA in the Punjab; in 306 cases the accused were freed when witnesses rescinded their testimonies; in 372 other cases the accused reached a compromise with prosecutors.
The court system is very inefficient, with more than 3,000 suspects remaining in makeshift detention camps awaiting trial.
The Anti-Terrorism Act itself violates certain basic rights, including the right to trial by jury with a full defence. Extra-judicial confessions recorded by security staff are admissible as evidence and suspects can be detained for up to 90 days without charge.  

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