Powerful bodies suggested to protect minorities rights | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Powerful bodies suggested to protect minorities rights

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: Hate crime, violence and discrimination against religious minorities have increased manifold in recent years and there is a dire need to set up autonomous commissions with judicial powers at the federal and provincial levels to protect their rights, said participants in a meeting held at a local hotel on Thursday.

The meeting organised by South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK) was meant to record the feedback of lawyers, lawmakers and representatives of civil society on the draft of a bill meant to set up a commission on the rights of minorities at the provincial level.

The programme started off with a detailed presentation on the draft bill by SAP-PK deputy director Irfan Mufti. The bill, he said, was developed after holding a series of meetings with stakeholders, and his organisation was undertaking similar exercises in other provinces with the help of partners that included legal experts.

Highlighting some key features of the bill titled Sindh Minorities Rights Commission, he said the 11-member body would be composed of eminent people with ability and integrity and who had demonstrated knowledge of or practical experience of at least 15 years in matters of religious minorities in particular and human rights in general.

“Seven members, including the chairperson, shall be from among the minorities communities. Out of the total membership of the commission, at least half shall be women members. The chairperson and members shall hold the office for a term of four years,” he said.

The government through a public notice, he said, would invite suggestions for suitable persons for appointment as chairperson, and after the appointment of chairperson, the government would appoint other members of the comm¬ission in consultation with the chairperson.

On the commission’s financial autonomy, he said it was recommended that the provincial government would allocate a budget for the body. “Its functions include examining the working of the various safeguards provided in the constitution or provincial laws to protect minorities and make recommendations to ensure their effective implementation.

He said: “Monitoring the implementation of government policies and schemes for minorities’ welfare and assessing the representation of minority communities in the various government and semi-government departments and to recommend remedial measures in case of inadequate representation.”

The commission, he said, should also look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of and safeguards to minorities and take up such matters with the relevant authorities for necessary action.

“The commission is suggested to have suo motu powers on all issues concerning the minorities. It should have judicial powers to decide and investigate any time and demand any document from all institutions [wherever permissible by government],” he said.

“It can intervene in any proceedings involving any allegation of such violations (against minorities) pending before a court by submitting application for becoming a party to the proceedings before court in Sindh.”

The commission, he pointed out, would also ensure implementation of retired chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani’s landmark judgement that came in a case relating to the minorities last year.

While giving their feedback on the draft bill, most participants were of the opinion that the bill should be vetted by a team of legal experts before seeking support of a larger body of lawmakers and submitting it to the government for approval.

It was strongly suggested that members of marginalised communities, such as the scheduled caste Hindus, must have representation on such a commission that, they said, should hold quarterly meetings with representatives of the religious minorities.

Concern was raised over the loss of properties that the minorities had suffered and it was suggested that the commission should also be mandated to take up such issues.

Though there was discord in the meeting over the question whether Muslims and parliamentarians be made member of the commission, most participants were of the view that religion shouldn’t be a criterion for selection.

Retired justice Majida Rizvi favoured the draft clause stating that the decision of the commission shall be taken by the majority of its members present and in case of a tie, the member presiding the meeting should cast the deciding vote.

“The commission should also have powers to raise funds,” she remarked.

President of the Pakistan Hindu Forum Dr Jaipal Chhabria said the commission should have representation of all religious minorities and the chairmanship of the commission should be rotated between the two major religious minorities — the Hindus and the Christians.

Sorath Thebo, Khialdas Kohistani, both from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and Syed Hafizuddin of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, president of the Pakistan Hindu Panchayat Ravi Diwani and Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research also gave their proposals.