Decision to bring NCHR under human rights ministry’s control criticised
Demanding withdrawal of a notification seeking to bring the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) under the federal human rights ministry’s control, civil society activists said the government’s move undermines the state’s commitment to its citizens as well as international obligations.
In a statement issued on Friday, activists including Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’s Karamat Ali, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Asad Iqbal Butt, Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee’s Habibuddin Junaidi, veteran trade union leader Liaqat Sahi and Democracy Reporting International’s Naghma Shaikh condemned the issuance of the notification.
As per the activists, the notification stood in violation of the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012.
Despite the Pakistan People’s Party government passing the NCHR Act, and the then president approving it in May 2012, the government delayed constituting its body till May 2015.
The NCHR is an autonomous government body with a mandate to investigate human rights abuses, monitoring the overall implementation of human rights in the country and ensuring Pakistan’s compliance with international rights obligations.
Ali said the civil society in the country had for long demanded formation of such a body and had appreciated the government after it had formed the NCHR.
“We also welcomed the nomination of Justice (retd) Ali Nawaz Chohan, a renowned jurist of international repute as the body’s first chairman and the commission’s other members through a joint parliamentary committee,” he added.
By setting up such a commission, Ali opined the government not only fulfilled the state’s constitutional obligations towards protecting fundamental rights of the citizens, but also stood in line with the international commitments Pakistan made regarding strengthening implementation of human rights enshrined in key treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Civil society activists also expressed concerns on alleged misbehaviour of Babar Nawaz Khan, chairman of the National Assembly’ Standing Committee on Human Rights with Justice Chohan.
Satisfied with the NCHR’s functioning, the activists observed that since past two years, the body took important steps to protect and promote human rights in the country and established close liaison with civil society organisations.
However, they said that Khan’s direct interferences in the commission’ affairs and allegedly insulting Justice (retd) Chohan and other NCHR members is cause for concern for the entire civil society of the country.
Citing the NCHR Act, the activists observed that Section 16(1) of the act (Independence of Commission) clearly states, “The commission and every member of its staff shall function without political or other bias or interference and shall, until this Act expressly otherwise provides be independent and separate from any government, administrations, or any other functionary or body directly or indirectly representing the interest of any such entity.”
“We wish to emphasise that the duty-free access to Pakistani goods in the European market under the Generalized System of Preference (GSP Plus) has further increased the need for having an independent institutional mechanism in place to protect human rights and ensure timely reporting to international bodies,” Ali said.
Speaker of National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq and Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani were also urged to take notice of the alleged accesses by the ruling PML-N’s lawmaker, Babar Nawaz Khan, and protect the commission’s functioning according to the relevant law.
The statement was also endorsed by other activists and organisations including the South Asia Partnership, Rasheed A Razvi Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, Strengthening Participatory Organisation , Aurat Foundation, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Indus Resource Centre, Democratic Commission for Human Development, REAT Network, Rights Now Pakistan, National Labour Council, National Organisation for Working Communities, Workers Education and Research Organisation, Citizens Trust against Crimes and Urban Resource Centre.