Supreme court justices from South Asia gathered at NYU Law on March 11 for a discussion about their roles in leading a criminal justice response to terrorism and in balancing the rights of society as a whole with the rights of accused terrorists.
The judge-to-judge dialogue, which was hosted by the United Nations Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the Global Center on Cooperative Security, brought together an esteemed group of jurists to reflect on everything from the roots of terrorism to judiciaries that are overburdened with terrorism-related cases. The participants included Justice Chandra Ekanayake of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Justice Asif Khosa of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Rinzin Penjor of the Supreme Court of Bhutan, Justice Abdul Rashid Rashid of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and Justice Baidya Nath Upadhyay of the Supreme Court of Nepal.
Three US federal court judges moderated the discussion: Judge Allyson Duncan of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Chief Judge John Tunheim of the US District Court for the District of Minnesota, and Judge David Carter of the US District Court for the Central District of California. Following an introduction by Zachary Goldman, executive director of the Center on Law and Security, Duncan opened the discussion by praising the leadership that South Asian judges have demonstrated in promoting global counterterrorism cooperation. In September 2015, she pointed out, South Asian judges produced a toolkit of best practices for judges adjudicating terrorism cases in South Asia.
“The rule of law remains the bedrock upon which effective adjudication of terrorism rests,” said Duncan, an idea that the participants affirmed throughout the discussion.
Judges addressed a wide range of issues, from the roots of terrorism to judiciaries that are overburdened by cases. Khosa shed light on how Pakistan’s special courts for terrorism operate, and acknowledged the difficulty of prosecuting suicide bombers who perished in the act. Rashid shared the threats to his life that he has faced in Afghanistan, remarking, “If you cannot destroy the root of terrorism, then we will not be successful.” Sinha concurred and emphasized the importance of addressing money laundering, drug trafficking, and economic disparity in Bangladesh. The poor, he noted, are easy prey for the terrorist groups in his country.
Upadhyay urged that, above all, jurists remain vigilant in supporting the rule of law. “We have to see the interest of the people as well as the legal rights of the accused.”