ISLAMABAD: The Senate finally approved the 28th constitutional amendment bill on Tuesday, consummating the parliamentary process to revive military courts for another two years.
Reconvened sitting after a rare six-day break, the upper house of parliament passed the amendment with 78 votes in favour – nine more than the least number of votes required to make a two-thirds majority. At least 69 were needed to amend the constitution in the104-member Senate.
All parties except for government ally Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party voted in favour of the bill. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl – another party in the ruling coalition – and Balochistan National Party-Mengal – which only has one senator – did not attend the session in order to abstain from voting.
The National Assembly had passed the legislation last week and sent it to the Senate for approbation.
In its last sitting Senate passed the Pakistan Army Amendment Bill, 2017, but had to abruptly defer final voting on the main bill after falling short of numbers needed to amend constitution.
Captioned ‘Constitution (28th Amendment) Act, 2017’, a new sunset clause that will be effective for two years starting from January 7 this year, has been added in article 175 of the constitution. The new amendment has allowed special military courts to continue to try hardcore militants.
Through the newly adopted amendment, changes have also been made in the first schedule of the constitution, making entries of the Pakistan Act, 1952, and the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. This has completed legal formalities to empower military courts to conduct trials in cases related to terrorism.
Military courts – set up through the 21st amendment initially for a period of two years for speedy trial of hardcore terrorists in the wake of the December 2014 massacre of schoolchildren – had ceased to function on expiry of their term on Jan 7, 2017.
Once their term expired, the government held multiple sessions with political parties to muster parliamentary support from them for extension of special legislation, on which many human rights groups and political parties have had reservations. Opponents say trials through military courts fell short of international standards for fairness and were infringing on rights of citizens guaranteed in article 10 of the country’s constitution.
To assuage such concerns the legislation has been improved this time by adding new provisions to what was approved in the 21st amendment.
New provisions proposed by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) incorporated in the law are as follows:
The accused will be produced before the court within 24 hours of arrest, along with charge-sheet, he/she would have right to engage counsel of choice and the 1984 Qanun-e-Shahadat will apply in their cases.
Tagged as the 28th amendment bill, the legislation would be termed as the 23rd Amendment after formal approval from President Mamnoon Hussain.
The Senate on Tuesday also passed a motion to constitute a parliamentary committee on national security. The panel, to be announced by the National Assembly speaker in consultation with the Senate chairman, will monitor progress on NAP, performance of military courts and the process of transition from military courts to civilian courts following the former’s expiry on January 7, 2019.