The high court in Pakistan has asked came to power in the Tehreek-e-Insaf party to revitalize the country’s National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), an independent rights watchdog that has been inactive since 2019, amid accusations that the government is deliberately halting its functions.
Activists and former NCHR workers have accused Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of delaying the appointment of a leadership role to the commission, to avoid accountability. violation of human rights, especially those carried out in the hands of the state military.
After discovering several faults with previous government advertisements for leadership roles on the commission, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on March 29 directed the federal government to issue advertisements for the new chairman and members of the NCHR.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah ruled the previous advertisement for the NCHR’s position to be unconstitutional. The first ad includes a maximum age limit, which the court says must be removed to make the selection process more inclusive.
Another issue was raised regarding the ambiguity of advertising language, as the phrase “asking for suggestions for a match” does not mean the same thing as the term “inviting app”.
Minallah then directed the Ministry of Human Rights to convey the names of potential candidates to the prime minister and opposition leaders, after receiving suggestions. The court also directed the ministry to present its orders and new summaries at the next cabinet meeting.
The former chairman of the commission, Judge Ali Nawaz Chowhan, told DW that the inconsistencies in these advertisements were deliberately placed by the government, as officials had a vested interest in sabotaging the commission’s efforts to monitor and report. peak human rights violations,like enforced disappearance.
“This government has no drive or desire to really work for human rights. What’s the point of having a Ministry of Human Rights without having an independent human rights commission?” said Chowhan.
The NCHR member’s four-year term ends on 30 May 2019, and since then, the role has not been filled.
The role of the NCHR in international conventions
The NCHR Act was introduced in 2012, to mandate promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights according to the constitution and international treaties. One of its mandates is to adhere to the Paris Principles, adopted by the UN General Assembly. Pakistan is the beneficiary of the below economy General Preference System (GSP) and is responsible for implementing the UN Core International Human Rights Treaty.
While the commission was set up to meet the criteria set by international conventions, critics say the NCHR’s future findings could risk Pakistan’s economic benefits like the GSP.
“The government has reduced the NCHR to a framework. We published 35 reports, brought attention and investigated human rights abuses, but the government does not want its failures to be exposed, which is why they postponed this appointment, so that the international image does not suffer,” said Chowhan.
Blame-game between political parties
Speaking to DW, Pakistan’s Minister of Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, denied that the government had deliberately delayed appointments, and said officials had followed the due process by advertising in 2019, at the end of its last term.
Mazari noted that the NCHR post had been advertised back in October 2020, and that PM Khan had sent a preference list to the head of the opposition in December.
“We keep getting excuses from the opposition, who haven’t sent us their nominations. They keep saying it’s because of him [opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif] is in jail but it looks like he’s not functioning. The pressure has to be on the opposition, not us, so we can really move forward from this issue, “said Mazari.
He added that delays have also occurred due to logistical and legal congestion. “We change the whole law to be smoother or do it now, that’s how it works today,” he said.
According to a December 2020 CIVICUS Monitor report, the state of civilian space in Pakistan continues to be classified as “oppressed”. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2020, the Pakistani government harassed and sometimes prosecuted human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists for criticizing the government, and using its ruthless sedition and anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent.
Prominent human rights defender Tahira Abdullah told DW that he believed Pakistani human rights activists had an obligation to defend a completely independent NCHR.
“The NCHR can only be effective if a truly independent chairman and commissioner is appointed, and only if all interference in the autonomy of the NCHR, which is carried out by state institutions, political offices and the bureaucracy,” said Abdullah.