PAKISTAN – Debate over the National Commission for Minorities

Agenzia Fides | May 12, 2020

“The National Commission on Human Rights, the National Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on the Rights of the Child have been established thanks to a special law approved in Parliament. We appeal to the Prime Minister and to members of the federal government so that the same path is applied to the ‘National Commission for Religious Minorities’, in the interest of the country, in order to promote respect for human rights and the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan”: this is what is stated in a note sent to Agenzia Fides by Archbishop Joseph Arshad, Bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, and President of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference, while in the country the debate on the National Commission for religious minorities, set up in recent days by the federal government as a body in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, continues.

Numerous organizations from non-Muslim communities contested this decision, stating that the Commission, on the advice of the Supreme Court, should be established by Parliament, as a completely independent body, and not subject to government.

Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf, Executive Director of the Justice and Peace National Commission of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops said that “the Commission should have been formed through an adequate, fair and consultative process. The communities of religious minorities were not consulted during the constitution of this Commission. Furthermore, this should have been done by an act of the Parliament in such a way as to establish an autonomous body and its own statute, thus achieving the aim defined by the Supreme Court”.

The Commission’s mandate will last for a period of three years. The Commission will include three Muslims, three Hindus, three Christians and one member each of the Sikh, Parsi and Kailash communities. According to Samsom Salamat, director of the Human Rights Education Center, “the Commission was formed following an unconstitutional and undemocratic path, because it did not pass through Parliament. It resembles an interreligious Commission rather than a minority commission: including the head of the Islamic Council of Islamic ideology and 2 other well-known Muslim leaders in the Commission is clear evidence, and it is believed that in the presence of these personalities, members of minority communities will not be able to discuss issues and make decisions in an independent and free manner”.

The best practice, it is said, is that these rights bodies are established on the basis of a law enacted by parliament. A body set up by the executive is likely to be “a body presented to the international community just to show off”.

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