LAHORE: The Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JACPR) has expressed disappointment over the recent passage of the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023 by the National Assembly.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, JACPR highlighted that the bill’s provisions are inconsistent with the UN Paris Principles and the directives of the Supreme Court from 2014 (SMC No. 1 of 2014), urging the government to take immediate steps towards enacting a more robust and comprehensive National Commission for Minorities’ Rights.
It asserted that while the bill was passed to address the concerns of minority communities, it still falls short of creating a truly functional, effective, independent, autonomous, and resourceful institution to safeguard minority rights.
The committee pointed out that the history of ad-hoc commissions formed by the Federal Ministry for Religious Affairs since 1990 reveals a lack of progress in policy reforms and resolution of complaints related to minority rights due to inadequate legal basis, limited mandate, lack of independence, and insufficient resources.
The Supreme Court’s 2014 directive, according to the JACPR, emphasised the establishment of a minority rights institution with the mandate to monitor and protect the rights of minorities as enshrined in the Constitution and law.
The JACPR proposes several key amendments and considerations that should be incorporated into the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023, including renaming the institution as the “National Commission for Minorities Rights” (NCMR), to ensure its primary focus on safeguarding and advocating for minority rights.
To ensure greater independence, the JACPR recommends reducing government representation and influence within the commission, and minimising any religious divide.
It proposes a diverse composition that includes four Hindu members, from both upper castes and scheduled castes, and as many Christian members from different provinces, to incorporate regional representation.
The appointments to the commission should be based on merit rather than religious or caste identity, emphasising the commission’s role as a human rights institution.
While recognising religious diversity, the JACPR suggests proportional representation for smaller religious communities, with a single seat for Sikhs in proportion to their population size.
The inclusion of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) representation in the bill was criticized by the committee, which advocated for an independent minorities’ commission.
It proposes representatives from existing national human rights institutions like the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), and the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC), to enhance cooperation and avoid redundancy.
The JACPR emphasises allocating a sufficient budget to the commission for financial autonomy, reflecting the government’s commitment to supporting national human rights institutions.
It calls for urgent revisions to the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023, in order to establish an institution that truly upholds the rights and protection of minority communities in Pakistan.
The committee urged the parliament to play a central role in the appointment process and to ensure the commission’s accountability by presenting an annual report to the parliament itself, rather than the President of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2023