KARACHI: The Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) organised a consultation meeting on the role of different commissions and statutory bodies established by the provincial government in preserving the fundamental rights and improving service delivery at a local hotel here on Friday.

Retired Justice Majida Rizvi, chairperson, SHRC introduced the work of the commission to the participants.

She said that there were another seven commissions besides SHRC whose mandates were interconnected. “Their functions overlap,” she said. “A majority of the commissions are working as watchdogs like SHRC,” she added. Therefore she thought it was a good idea to collaborate with them in the field of human rights. Then she invited the representatives of various commissions to share their work and challenges they were facing.

Talking about SHRC, its secretary Abida Lodhi gave a presentation on the work of the commission.

She said that they formulate, implement and regularly update policies with a view to protecting human rights.

They promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of human rights through media or by organising seminars and using other available means. And besides other things they also encourage the efforts of nongovernmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights.

Harassment at workplace

Retired Justice Shahnawaz Tariq, Ombudsman of the Commission against Harassment of Women, said that harassment at workplace was nothing new. “The harasser is usually a boss or owner of the office, which can be overwhelming. But it is important for the victim to come forward and fight because harassment otherwise can be psychologically crippling,” he said, adding that they were open to listening to complaints from not just women, but men and transgender community members too. “We also have an app which you can download from Google Playstore,” he added.

Commissioner of the Sindh Healthcare Commission (SHCC) Khalid Hussain Shaikh in his presentation said that the SHCC Act 2013 was passed by the Provincial Assembly of Sindh on Feb 24, 2014, and notified on March 20, 2014, extending to the entire province.

“It will apply on all healthcare establishments such as public or private hospitals, non-profit organisations, charitable hospitals, trust hospitals, semi-government and autonomous healthcare organisations,” he said.

‘Many commissions are dormant’

Former member of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Anis Haroon said that she was the member from Sindh in NCHR which was dysfunctional for past six months.

She further said that if a department was already there in the province, then there was no need to create a commission there.

About the NCHR, she added that the commission’s report went to the UN Human Rights Council.

She informed that the NCHR could take cases from all over Pakistan as they were a national commission.

“When we started work, for a while there were no funds allocated to us and we didn’t even have an office or staff and still in our three years of work we registered 580 complains from Sindh alone and we resolved 322 of those cases. But since June of last year we have been dormant. Like us there are also so many other commissions that are dormant with no new budget allocation, no appointment of chairperson,” she said.

Chief Commissioner of the Right to Information Commission Shahid Gulzar Shaikh said that Article 19-A of the Constitution provides citizens right to information and transparency. “The right to information is the fundamental right of citizens. All public bodies should provide information to the information seeker. The commission should designate an officer who can assist the citizen in the search for information. But if the officer refuses to do so then the citizen can directly write to the head of the commission and get the officer punished,” he said.

‘Women police officers needed to register FIRs’

Chairperson, Sindh Commission on the Status of Women (SCSW), Nuzhat Shireen, shared their preamble of promoting international conventions as well as Constitution of Pakistan in the context of women.

“Our committee meets regularly to review laws. We have reviewed 18 laws and also made the rules of business of three laws here,” she said. But, she added, there was still so much to do for women here. “There should be human rights desks and women police officers to register FIRs. But I am informed that women cannot write FIRs, which is quite an absurd excuse for sidelining women police officers,” she said. “The late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had made 12 women police stations in Sindh, but all of them are also not working and there is talk of turning them into shelter homes,” she said, adding that it was a strange suggestion as the province already had plenty of shelter homes.

Provincial Manager, Enhanced HIV/AIDS Control Programme, Sikandar Memon, said that their AIDS Control Programme was facilitating the Sindh HIV/AIDS Commission. “After 2006, we have HIV/AIDS medicines being distributed for free,” he said.

Finally, Barrister Murtaza Wahab, Adviser to the Chief Minister of Sindh on Law, Environment, Climate Change and Coastal Development, said that the roundtable dialogue among commissions was a good idea to get to know and understand each other’s initiatives and mandates.

He said he felt that most of the time people interfere into each other’s work unnecessarily.

“People should be allowed to do their work. We should all ponder over whether we are all doing our jobs well instead of interfering in each other’s work,” he said, adding that commissions should work autonomously as they were autonomous bodies.

KCR: two views

“If all statutory bodies did their work, our courts will be less burdened as everyone won’t be going to court for every little thing,” he said.

Taking the example of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), he said that those looking at it from the eyes of the people living along the tracks know of the human rights issues associated with the case while pro-development people say that KCR was needed as it would be good for the city’s infrastructure. “So instead of heading for the courts, there is a need for both sides to sit together and discuss it until they can reach a solution,” he said.

He also said that there should be a proactive disclosure for departments to be able to check themselves for transparency. “Like, if you take the example of the Sindh Assembly, all the laws passed there are available on the website in English, Urdu and Sindhi. We have also developed a mobile app for this,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2020

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