Official HR commission
IT was in May 2012 that an act was passed for the establishment of a National Commission on Human Rights. The process of setting up the NCHR has been slow but it is better late than never in a country that has a history of political parties in government attempting to undo the initiatives of previous dispensations. That a real effort is on to set up the commission indicates parliamentary continuity. Even though its pursuance has required a strong nudge from senators belonging to the PPP, under whose government the act mandating the NCHR was passed, it is still an occasion marking Pakistan’s advance towards a mature democracy. The Ministry of Law has sent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a summary about the selection of nine members that the commission is to be comprised of. The sooner its gets Mr Sharif’s attention the better, for this is one area where his government needs to make a strong statement. Earlier, it had sent a negative signal by doing away with the human rights ministry. A quick approach to creating the NCHR might improve the government’s image. The PPP on its part has, in this instance, shown its ability to push for an objective, post its stint in power. The selection of the commission members which involves the prime minister’s interaction with the opposition leader in the National Assembly will be another opportunity for the PPP to send a message that it is a responsible party with a meaningful presence in parliament.
The proposed NHRC appears to be an essential requirement for a country with a record of widespread rights violations. There are certain areas which are placed outside its reach including the armed forces and the secret agencies. But even where the commission has jurisdiction — the authority of a civil court with powers to ask a magistrate to investigate a matter — a lot will depend on how the rules are interpreted and the space created for its functioning. The interpretation has to be one that ensures that the NHRC, like some other ‘independent’ authorities that have come up during the current wave of democracy in Pakistan, is not reduced to a government commission merely in name, with no implementing teeth.