x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Military to deliver its own brand of justice

Beginning in June, personnel accused of offences or involved in civil disagreements will have their cases dealt with internally.

Abu Dhabi // The nation's first military courts, officially established on January 1, will begin operating in June. Mandated by Federal Law No 11 of 2009, the courts will prosecute members of the armed forces for military-related violations and operate independently of the country's judiciary. Proceedings will be held at the Armed Forces Headquarters in Abu Dhabi.

The preliminary Military Court will either prosecute each case or refer it to one of five branches: the Criminal Court and Court of Misdemeanors, which handle violations of military code; Civil Court, which handles disagreements between individuals; the Upper Military Court, for appeals; and the Appeal Military Court, for final judgments. The courts will prosecute only those who committed an offence while on duty or that was related to their role in the military.

The law does not specify whether prison sentences will be served in civilian or military prisons. Until the establishment of this law, offenders were tried in quasi-judicial hearings, reprimanded without a trial or placed in the regular judicial system. Cases also often ended up in the State Security Court at the Federal Supreme Court because they concerned matters of security. State Security Court verdict cannot be appealed.

The law specifies that judges will be selected by the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The judicial panel must comprise three to five judges, depending on the court, from any Arab country. Judges must either have experience in the military or judicial experience in military courts. A military prosecution office also has been established. Unlike other regional military courts, the courts here will not try civilians, even those involved in military matters. In March, Jordanian military courts charged four civilians for bribery and abuse in a case revolving around the country's oil refinery.

Sarath Fonseka, the former head of the Sri Lankan army, is in military detention facing court martial on charges he accepted corrupt tenders for various contracts. He and his defence lawyers have argued that the military panel is biased and that he should be tried as a civilian. And in Lebanon, a Hizbollah fighter is being tried by a military panel in the shooting death of a Lebanese helicopter pilot. Although the man on trial is technically a civilian, Hizbollah's role as an "armed resistance" organisation was codified by the ceasefire agreement that ended Lebanon's civil war in 1991.

Turkey, on the other hand, is trying several of its top military leaders in civilian court. The members of the general staff are accused of trying to foment a revolution in the country, which has seen four different administrations pushed out of power in military coups since 1960. In the United States, military tribunals have drawn criticism for their treatment of civilian offenders captured by the military and accused of terrorism offences. Although the prison in which many of them are held, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is being closed, more are scheduled for trial.