ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Human Rights on Saturday submitted to Islamabad High Court (IHC) the notification regarding constitution of a commission tasked with examining civil liberties for prisoners across the country.
The notification submitted to IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah stated that Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari was chairperson of the commission. Secretaries human rights, health, interior ministries, former Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairperson Zohra Yousaf, journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, advocate Zia Awan, former Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director general Tariq Khosa and all provincial chief secretaries would be its members.
The terms of reference of the commission included “to investigate human rights violations in the prisons of Pakistan and lack of medical assistance and obstacles in access to a court of law of prisoners who do not have means or assistance in this regard.”
The commission will investigate “failure on part of the executive authorities and respective government to fulfil obligations and enforce the Prison Rules and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 regarding the prisoners who suffer from illness and diseases.”
It will “carry out a review of the prison rules and other relevant laws with the object of fulfilling the commitments of the State of Pakistan under the constitution, international treaties and conventions and would propose solutions to deal with human rights violations in the prisons and amendments in any law, rules or regulation, appropriate governance and management system.”
According to the notification, the commission will suggest “how to ensure individual and institutional accountability” as well.
During the course of hearing, the IHC chief justice expressed serious concerns over the miseries of the inmates detained in different jails across the country
especially Adiala Jail which according to the jail authorities were crowded.The deputy superintendent of Adiala Jail on Friday informed the IHC that against the space for 1,500 inmates, the total number of prisoners in the jail had exceeded 4,000.
Justice Minallah remarked that he would visit the jail some time next week to examine the situation.
On Nov 22, the IHC had observed that executive authorities were vested with power and jurisdiction under the prison rules and the code of criminal procedure to address grievances of the prisoners suffering from serious illness.
The court pointed out that the United Nations committee on economic, social and cultural rights had declared health a fundamental right. And the international convention on civil and political rights provides that every human being has the inherent right to life and this right shall be protected by the law.
The court noted that the objective of sentencing somebody to a jail term was to make the convict and others realise what the former had done. The sentence deprives the prisoner of liberty and freedom while limiting some other rights. But with no stretch of the imagination the right to life is restricted or curtailed; rather heavy burden lies on the state to safeguard the right to life of a prisoner as the latter is entirely at its mercy.
Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2019