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ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel on Wednesday approved amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) that would allow the government to act against people or organisations based solely on United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The amendments were approved by all members of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior other than Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) MNA Naeema Kishwar Khan, who believed the move could be used to take action against individuals such as Hafiz Saeed and Kashmiri leaders at the behest of India.

During the meeting, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told the committee that Pakistan had no choice but the pass the amendments because it was bound to follow UNSC decisions as a UN signatory.

Amendments would allow govt to act against individuals, organisations based solely on UNSC resolutions

He said there is a lacuna in the existing law, and the amendments would send a strong message that Pakistan is taking serious action against terrorism.

Upon Ms Khan’s insistence, the interior minister explained that the UN had a system through which it enlisted names.

He said the lack of such a provision has violated the UN’s spirit, and allows enemies of Pakistan to exploit the situation.

“We are already on the gray list,” he said.

Jamaat-i-Islami MNA Sher Akbar Khan also expressed objections to the amendment, but rescinded them after he was told by other committee members that the bill were in the country’s greater interest.

Mr Khan said he would support the bill on the condition that the government take steps to end the interest-based economic system, which the interior minister said they would make an effort to do.

Other committee members expressed unconditional support for the amendments.

Amendments to the ATA have already been made through a presidential order in February.

According to the amendment bill’s statement of objects and reasons, the ATA 1997, though comprehensive in scope, lacks direct reference regarding individuals and entities that come under the jurisdiction of UNSC resolutions.

When the act is invoked against such individuals, Pakistan’s courts demand evidence of wrongdoing. In the absence of strong evidence, designated officials have been released several times. In the case of the UNSC Act 1948, there is no requirement for evidence since they have already been designated proscribed by the UNSC and Pakistan is obliged to act against them under its international obligations.

The bill said the UNSC Act 1948 and relevant statutory regulatory orders issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, provides for the listing of all persons under the UNSC sanctions regime.

“Reference of UN Security Council Resolution in Sections 11B and 11EE of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 is required so that federal government can take action against a person or organization, as the case may be solely based on UN Security Council resolutions.”

The bill adds: “Though, the aforesaid sections clearly provides that information received from international institutions is valid information and can be made grounds/evidence for proscription before courts of law wherein new clause (aa) in Section 11B and new clause (aa) in Section 11EE in Anti Terrorism Act, 1997 may be added to tackle the issue.”

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018