Minorities rights body accuses ministry of non-cooperation

Published May 8, 2020
Supreme Court’s 2014 verdict required government to establish council for protecting minorities’ rights. — AFP/File
Supreme Court’s 2014 verdict required government to establish council for protecting minorities’ rights. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The one-man commission on minority rights regretted before the Supreme Court on Thursday that it was facing defiance and non-cooperation from the Ministry of Religious Affairs in implementation of the apex court’s 2014 judgement about establishment of a council for protecting minorities’ rights.

In a five-page report, the Dr Shoaib Suddle commission requested the apex court to seek an explanation from the ministry’s secretary over the violation of an undertaking given by him to the court on Feb 19, 2020 for the establishment of a statutory National Council for Minorities, saying this alleged defiance constituted the contempt of court.

The commission also requested the apex court to order the ministry to withdraw or withhold any notification already issued or being issued in contravention of its undertaking before the court. The report sought a directive for the secretary to implement paragraph 37(iv) of the 2014 Supreme Court judgement in its true spirit and in meaningful consultation with the commission.

The commission had been constituted by the implementation bench of the Supreme Court on the directives of the then chief justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa on Jan 9, 2019. The purpose of the commission was to oversee the implementation of the SC judgement delivered by former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on June 19, 2014, in a suo motu case taken up by the apex court after the bombing of a church in Peshawar in 2013 that killed over 100 people.

Supreme Court’s 2014 verdict required government to establish council for protecting minorities’ rights

The paragraph 37(iv) of the judgement required setting up of the National Council for Minorities which should monitor the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and the law. The council should also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights by the federal and provincial governments, the judgement had said.

Encouraged by the ministry’s Feb 19, 2020 assurance to the court, the report recalled, the one-man commission commenced internal consultations with the committee set up by the court and proceeded to draft a proposed bill for the establishment of the National Council for Minorities.

Subsequently, the commission had on April 20 circulated a draft bill on the establishment of the council to the religious affairs ministry and other stakeholders from the federal and provincial governments for their input and to seek feedback from civil society organisations and minority communities.

The commission expected that the ministry would give its feedback on the proposed draft bill but that never happened, the report regretted. Since then the commission had been receiving valuable feedback from the government and civil society organisations both from within Pakistan and abroad, but religious affairs ministry had not even acknowledged the receipt of the draft bill, it added.

The report said the commission also planned to hold further consultations with the stakeholders through a series of video conferencing, adding that the commission recently found out through the media that the religious affairs ministry had moved a summary for the cabinet to reconstitute apparently the existing council for minorities. But the ministry, in defiance of the apex court’s Oct 3, 2019 order, did not consult the commission before moving this summary, the report alleged.

According to another summary for the cabinet circulating on social media, the report highlighted, the council being proposed by the ministry consisted of six official members — serving government officers — and 12 non-official members, two Muslim members and 10 members from minorities, with the ministry’s secretary as ex-officio secretary of the council.

“The body proposed by the religious affairs ministry violates the commitment made before the apex court on Feb 19, 2020, as it does not have a statutory backing and its very existence and composition will be at the whims and mercy of the ministry,” the report contended.

It said the proposed body was fundamentally different from several statutory human rights institutions in Pakistan like the National Commission on the Status of Women Ordinance 2000, the National Commission for Human Rights Pakistan Act 2012, as well as the National Commission on the Rights of Child Act 2017.

“The proposed body is not in conformity with the Pakistan government’s international commitments like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, which Pakistan ratified in 2010. Nor does it follow the spirit behind the Paris Principles the UN General Assembly adopted in 1993,” the report said, adding that the proposed council could not be regarded to have been set up in compliance with the directive given by the Supreme Court in paragraph 37(iv) of the judgement.

The report argued that the effectiveness of the proposed reconstituted body could be assessed from the fact that it claimed existence but there was nothing on record to show that it did anything in relation to the rights of minorities. In fact the minority communities were not even aware of the existence of such a body, it added.

According to media reports, the report said, a large number of minority rights bodies were feeling alarmed at this development and had rejected the religious affairs ministry’s proposed body and asked the government to constitute a statutory council or commission for minorities.

The report recalled that the Supreme Court had on Feb 19 ordered the ministry to transfer Rs7 million budget of the one-man commission to a separate bank account maintained by the commission and not to deduct any expenses incurred on furnishing the commission’s office. But in utter defence of the court order, the ministry had replied that the commission would get the balance sum after deducting the expenses incurred on furnishing the commission’s office, the report regretted.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2020

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