The law and human rights
ALL segments of Pakistani society, it appears, have come to place their trust overwhelmingly in the judiciary for deliverance from the critical state in which they have been trapped for some years. And it is about time that the resulting populism was shunned and matters were put into perspective. That is what Chief Justice Tasadduq Hussain Jillani attempted to do on Monday at a reception by the Supreme Court Bar Association in Islamabad. The chief justice underscored the need for laws that are effective — without human rights being violated in their implementation. He did envisage a role for the judiciary in pursuing the rule of law, but that, he clearly indicated, was linked to adherence to basic democratic norms by state and society and to the delegation of duties to various organs of the state. All this constitutes a fine balance that is difficult to achieve even in ordinary circumstances — and it is easily disturbed in a troubled situation as the one that exists in Pakistan today.
Justice Jillani in his address talked about “… a culture of terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and extra-judicial killings”. He also discussed how weaker states are perceived internationally to be spawning security threats, particularly in the context of the post 9/11 world. He then linked the judiciary’s efficient functioning to some equally important work by the legislature and executive, with significant contribution by society at large. The legislature must enact appropriate laws and the government must enforce human rights laws and provide all people equal access to court. But before this, home and school must play their role in fighting intolerance.
This was much more than a statement of resolve or a simple overview of Pakistani society. Justice Jillani’s nuances were defied by the background of the state-sponsored clamour for tougher laws to deal with an ‘extraordinary’ situation. The government has been pushing for the passage of the Pakistan Protection Ordinance, the draconian recipe that surfaced some time ago and which was challenged in court recently. Rights groups and many political parties have rejected the law, asking the legislature to purge the PPO of elements that are repugnant to written and unwritten human rights. These campaigners for fair laws will be justified in happily claiming the top judge’s observations as a refined and an encouraging example of good sense and of advocating a rule of law that is just. While Mr Jillani’s remarks were not as angry a reminder to the executive and legislature as some of the warnings issued from the same seat in recent years, they should nevertheless send a clear message to the government: the latter must exercise maximum restraint as it devises legal measures to deal with the prevalent ‘culture of extremism’.