‘Toothless human rights body has potential to make a difference’
Relevant law allows Sindh Human Rights Commission to make alliances with civil society and relevant NGOs to file public-interest litigation
Although the toothless Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) is mainly a recommendatory organisation and except for the chairperson, the secretary and all the members have been appointed by the provincial government, the human rights body still has the potential to effectively work on broader sections of society.
The observation was made by parliamentarians, civil society and labour rights activists, lawyers and media personnel gathered at a consultation on ‘Strategic Planning for SHRC (2017-2021)’ to share their thoughts and recommendations to formulate the future strategy for the commission. After Hyderabad, Sukkur and Umerkot, the body convened its fourth meeting in Karachi to hear suggestions.
The commission was notified in May 2013 – around two years after the relevant bill was passed by the Sindh Assembly. The body completed its first four years and recently notified that it would work until 2021.
SHRC Chairperson Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi said the commission had taken up several issues relating to human rights abuses across the province and taken suo motu action on relevant news reports as well as applications of individuals.
Faisal Siddiqi, a prominent lawyer pursuing several human rights cases, said the lawmakers had passed the ‘Sindh Protection of Human Rights Act 2011’ solely for political point-scoring, and in fact, did not empower the body to do any real work.
“The SHRC is merely working as a recommendatory body to make reports and oversee treaties, and all of its members, except the chairperson, are appointed by the Sindh government,” added Siddiqi.
Highlighting the SHRC’s potential in the existing limited mandate, he said the law allowed the human rights body to make alliances with the civil society and relevant NGOs. “Exploiting its potential, the SHRC, along with rights groups, can file public-interest litigation.”
He said that taking advantage of the broad definition of “human rights”, the body could take notice of all kinds of rights abuses and send recommendations to the relevant government bodies.
Siddiqi said the SHRC should also highlight the issues concerning Pakistani jails, where over 80 per cent of the inmates were under-trial prisoners, who are kept in inhumane conditions. He recommended that the commission collect the data of the inmates so a human rights petition could be filed for their release.
Palwasha Shahab, provincial coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said a significant portion of Karachi’s population did not come under legal cover because they were faced with problems in obtaining CNICs.
“Among them, Bengali, Burmese and Hindu communities are prominent, who have been deprived of their CNICs, barring their access to all services and making them vulnerable to harassment at the hands of the law enforcement agencies (LEAs),” she added.
Journalist Ali Arqam highlighted the expansion of informal settlements in the outskirts of the city, saying that because of military operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Balochistan as well as natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods in rural Sindh and some parts of Balochistan, a number of people had been migrating to the city’s informal settlements, which had been deprived of basic amenities, such as potable water and health and education facilities.
Karamat Ali, executive director for the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (Piler), discussed the issue of missing persons, saying that a large number of youth had gone missing. “The LEAs pick them up, and their families run from pillar to post to find out about their whereabouts.”
Other speakers discussed the issues of health, education, potable water and sanitation, and asked the SHRC to take notice of rights abuses of indigenous communities in the city’s’ rural areas.
The MPAs who attended the consultation and presented their recommendations included the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional’s Nusrat Seher Abbasi and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Naila Muneer, Rana Israr and Syed Waqar Shah. The Aurat Foundation’s Mahnaz Rehman, the Urban Resource Centre’s Zahid Farooq, the Democracy Reporting International’s Naghma Iqtidar, the Strengthening Participatory Organisation’s Raheema Panhwar, Piler’s Zulfiqar Shah, the SHRC’s Zeenia Shaukat and rights activists Paryal Maree, Habibuddin Junaidi and Salam Dharejo also shared their thoughts with the meeting.