PAKISTAN – Reconstitution of National Commission for Minorities

News Lens | Kashif Nawab | May 14, 2020

The Federal Cabinet of Pakistan has reconstituted a National Commission for Religious Minorities in May 2020.  The tenure of the commission will be for a period of three years.  The new commission will comprise two Muslims, three Hindus, three Christians and one member each from the Sikh, Parsi and Kailash communities, while its chairman will also come from a minority.  However, an independent commission since 2014 when the Supreme Court bench, headed by Former Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, ordered the Federal Government to set up a national council to monitor human rights cases and ensure that constitutionally enshrined safeguards was put in place to protect the rights of minorities.

At the same time, human rights activists from Christian community have rejected the reconstitute of such commission and raised some serious questions. They fear that the commission will be ineffective as such temporary and futile measures have already been taken in the past. They demanded that if effective commission is to be formed then regular legislation should be enacted. They said that respect for rights is not possible without a solid legal foundation. It has also been objected that if the commission is for minorities, so why include Muslim members. It is proposed to set up a minority commission like how it was done by parliament for the commission of human rights and women.

Thus, National Commission for Minorities’ Rights has remained a matter of concern for successive government that made numerous attempts of constituting ad-hoc bodies that lacked legal protection, powers, and resources. Hence the Federal Government must set up a statutory commission mandated by the Supreme Court in 2014 but through the parliament, with the prime function to assess the implementation of rights and safeguards for minority rights, review public policies and contribute advice on policy matters.

The UCIRF presented its recommendation that Government of Pakistan to create a commission for minorities’ rights as amended by the Supreme Court decision 2014, said Mr. Saddique John, Admin Minority Rights Watch.

Mr. Samsom Salamat, Director Center for Human Rights Education said that newly established National Commission for Minorities’ Rights seems nothing more than the appeasement of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in response to the Appex Court 2014 Judgment. The Commission announced has been formed following an unconstitutional and undemocratic way because rather than constituting it through a Parliamentary Act, it’s done merely by an Executive Order.

The composition of the Commission looks like an interfaith commission rather than a minorities commission – the presence of the head of Islamic Council of Islamic ideology and 2 other renowned clerics is the clear evidence and it is believed that in presence of these personalities, the members belonging to minority communities will not be able to discuss issues and make decision independently and freely.

Mr, Asad Jamal, Human Rights Lawyer said that a summary moved by Pakistan’s Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs for reconstitution of the so-called National Commission for Minorities cannot be considered to be compliance of the 2014 verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan as this “commission” has existed on papers since 1990.

The SC had in its verdict recommended as follows:

A National Council for minorities’ rights be constituted. The function of the said Council should inter alia be to monitor the practical realization of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law. The Council should also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights by the Provincial and Federal Government;

The best international practice is that such rights bodies be made / constituted on the basis of a law enacted by parliament or a comparable legislature such as assembly, so as to make them statutory body with adequate powers to realise the intended goals. A commission as the one constituted through an executive notification does neither expressly empower it to perform necessary functions nor does it make it an independent body. It is therefore nothing but a toothless body meant to display before the international community for a show off.

Mr. Albert David, Member of the National Commission said that he welcome the initiate of the Federal Government for this commission.  He said that he hopes the commission shall be able to deliver some in terms of minority issues.  It will also conduct lobby advocacy with Government and alliance department regarding minority issues.  He said that the commission will review the existing laws and issues and presents its recommendations as per TORs with the following focus:

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