Civil society seeks restoration of HR ministry
ISLAMABAD: The civil society on Thursday demanded the government to immediately restore the ministry of Human Rights as an independent ministry, along with the appointment of a minister.
The Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI) has expressed its concern and dismay that the newly elected government has merged the federal Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) with the Ministry of Law & Justice (MoLJ). Addressing a press conference Naseem Memon from Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), Nasreen Azhar from Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and civil society representatives expressed these views at Islamabad National Press Club.
The participants said that the important subject of human rights is now to be relegated to a unit in the Ministry of Law and Justice. Terming it an ill-advised decision they said it will have a serious and adverse impact on the MoHR and, consequently, on the state of human rights in Pakistan.
They said the mandates of the two ministries are in direct conflict with each other. The MoLJ’s mandate includes defending the existing laws and representing the state in court cases pertaining to human rights violations by the state, while the MoHR is expected to redress the grievances of survivors/victims and to protect and safeguard their rights and interests. As a unit of the MoLJ it will not be able to perform these functions independently.
The Constitution of Pakistan (1973) lays down the ‘Principles of Policy and Fundamental Human Rights’, protected and promoted through several articles. In addition, Pakistan, as a member state of the United Nations, accepts the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and is also a state party to several Human Rights Conventions. After the establishment of the MoHR, Pakistan secured membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The merger will cause Pakistan’s image to suffer, they added.
The participants said that consequent to the merger, both the National Assembly and Senate Standing Committees on Human Rights would stand dissolved. This would result in the issue of human rights no longer being closely watched and monitored by parliament, which would further undermine the importance of human rights and their violations in Pakistan.
After devolution of the subject of women’s development as a federal unit in the MoHR, women’s issues will lose priority and focus, as will the rights of non-Muslim citizens, children and youth.
The meeting was of the view that the MoHR’s Human Rights Defenders Mechanism initiative; preparation of the UPR report and others (CRC/CEDAW) will be neglected. The MoLJ simply cannot handle the representational functions of the MoHR at the UN, EU and other international forums, nor will it be able to respond to queries from foreign delegations visiting Pakistan, especially with reference to the ongoing cases against the state institutions in the Supreme Court and the high courts.
They said the most important function of the MoHR is to harmonise national laws, regulations and practices with Pakistan’s international human rights covenants and agreements, and with this decision it will be halted or adversely affected.
The participants said that, in May this year, the people of Pakistan voted for a change, for progress and development; not for a retrogression of the gains achieved. “As Pakistani citizens, we want a strong Pakistani human rights agenda, based on the rule of law, independent judiciary, transparency and responsibility. We need the relevant institutional mechanisms, structures and resources to ensure this. This entails a fully restored and strengthened MoHR and a functioning National Commission on Human Rights, free of politicisation, pressure and influence, in order to protect and promote our constitutional rights,” they said in a statement.