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Landmark SC Judgment On Minority Rights Awaits Implementation Since 2014

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Last month, the federal government established a National Commission for Minorities, which unfortunately had multiple loopholes. The poorly-formed commission was criticised by national and international human rights groups. The establishment of the minorities’ commission without legislation made Dr. Shoaib Suddle approach apex court, reporting that this act constitutes the contempt of court as the newly established body violated a judgement of the Supreme Court issued over the same matter six years ago.

Importantly, minorities commission is the only body established through an executive order unlike the National Commission for Human Rights, National Commission on the Status of Women and National Commission for Children were constituted through an act of parliament.

The Minorities Commission lacks legal cover and does not have independent and non-partisan members. It does not even have a permanent office or regular and competent staff. Powers of investigation and remedying cases relating to violations of minority rights, which the other commissions enjoy, have not been granted to the minority commission. It is evident that the arbitrary process employed for the formation of ad-hoc minorities commission is a blatant deviation to the procedure adopted for setting up other human rights institutions in Pakistan. It is therefore discriminatory. 

June 19 marks the anniversary of the stupendous judgment passed by the Supreme Court on minorities rights in 2014. The author of the judgment, then Chief Justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, was bestowed with the International Justice Excellence Award and J. Clifford Wallace Award for making an outstanding contribution to the elevation of the principles of justice in Pakistan and around the world.

The judgment catering to several minority issues was acclaimed nationally and internationally across all quarters, and Government of Pakistan also acknowledged this remarkable judgment in state party reports on implementation on human rights submitted to UN bodies. However, the government has abysmally failed to comply with this judgment despite Supreme Court of Pakistan forming a one-member commission headed by Dr. Shoaib Suddle that engaged with government and civil society stakeholders particularly minority groups in federal and provincial capitals, and discussed the way forward for removing impediments to implementation on court orders. 

The overall compliance of seven court orders on the part of federal and provincial governments remained barely under 25 per cent according to Centre for Social Justice’s assessment report Long Wait for Justice authored by Peter Jacob. The assessment report reveals that there is little progress on court directions, for instance, the strategy for social and religious tolerance is not devised, and tolerant curricula is still awaited, and implementation of 5% quota in public sector jobs for minorities is nearly half.

It is disheartening that neither the previous nor the present government has paid heed to the compliance of this landmark judgment that was required to safeguard minority rights. 

The recent initiative of setting up minorities commission sparked reactions because PTI promised to establish this commission through an act of parliament, which it did not do. The PTI government  violated election manifesto (2018) as well as its undertaking given to the apex court in February 2020.

Dr. Shoaib Suddle presented a draft bill for the establishment of minorities’ commission to government authorities for input and feedback, but it was  not given due consideration. 

It is a sad reality that sham minorities commission under the federal ministry of religious affairs have been constituted by successive governments for 30 years, and they always failed to show any progress towards addressing issues that minorities face. A few months after the judgment in 2014, the minorities commission was constituted in the same manner with the consensus among the PML-N and PPPP, and PML-N led government. However, they didn’t seriously consider giving it a statutory status, though three private member’s bill presented by MNAs Sanjay Parwari, Lal Chand Malhi and Belum Hussain remained under-discussion in meetings of the standing committee on ministry of religious affairs.

The members of minority communities were flummoxed by the minorities commission so it didn’t face opposition in the past. National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) was not made functional before 2015, and civil society did not have experience of working with the independent commission that carried broad mandate of investigation and inquiry, etc. 

Since NCHR has completed its first term in 2019, civil society has got plenty of experience to engage with its national and provincial chapters for fact-finding missions and submitting complaints to remedy human rights violations. Therefore, it is the civil society which iss better placed to assess the mandate and powers enjoyed by human rights institutions all over the world. Toothless minorities commission won’t be unacceptable to civil society. 

Being the head of SCP’s established one-man commission, Dr. Shoaib Suddle has reported to the apex court about the symbolic value of the minorities commission. The human rights groups are also gearing up to challenge this commission by submitting a petition in the apex court soon.

Therefore, it has become difficult for this toothless minorities commission to sustain, which will leave the government with no other option, but to dissolve this commission and reconstitute it following due process of law. 

The minorities commission has not been a matter of concern for local stakeholders only, the countries namely Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom recommended the government of Pakistan to strengthen human rights institutions including National Commission for Minorities, during Pakistan’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review held in November 2017. 

The government should not be adamant about continuing with a sham minorities commission. Instead, it must give value to voices raised by local and international stakeholders for statutory minority rights commission. A permanent commission for minorities rights ought to be formed through legislation so that it ensures adequate human resource and the authority to take decisions and issue recommendations to protect minority rights in the country.

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Naya Daur