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A view of Pakistan's National Assembly. On May 4, 2012, the NA had passed a bill forming the National Human Rights Commission. The bill, however, still requires President Asif Ali Zardari's assent to go into effect.—File Photo

KARACHI /NEW YORK: The Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the President of Pakistan not to sign a bill to authorize a newly formed national human rights commission until it is revised to “authorize investigations of the military and the intelligence agencies for human rights violations.”

“The National Human Rights Commission if given teeth can play a critical role in improving Pakistan’s dire human rights situation. President Zardari should tell parliament he will only sign the bill when it gives the commission authority over abuses by the military and intelligence agencies,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at the international human rights’ watchdog, in a press release issued today.

Pakistan’s National Assembly had passed a bill – the National Human Rights Commission Act – on May 4 for the commission’s formation, but the act requires the president’s approval before it goes into effect.

The Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns that the bill would prevent the commission from addressing or investigating “human rights violations by members of the armed forces and intelligence agencies.”

“Pakistan’s military and its intelligence agencies have a long and well-documented history of serious and systematic abuses,” said Adams. “A primary reason to create a national human rights commission should be to address longstanding impunity for the army and intelligence services.”

The HRW has repeatedly called for more accountability of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, which it says, manages the country’s security policy.

Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad, who was mysteriously killed in May last year, had told the HRW that he had been getting threats from intelligence agents. The government had formed a commission to investigate the death, but it was unable to specifically hold anyone responsible for the killing. The HRW had blamed the commission of being “fearful of confronting the ISI over Shahzad’s death.”

“The commission’s failure to get to the bottom of the Shahzad killing illustrates the ability of the ISI to remain beyond the reach of Pakistan’s criminal justice system,” Adams had said earlier in January.

Thursday’s press release adds that the bill creating the National Human Rights Commission contains many positive elements to promote and protect human rights in Pakistan. “A strong and independent National Human Rights Commission can be a key institution in aiding Pakistan’s transition to a truly rights-respecting democracy.”

But a commission that cannot take on cases involving the army and intelligence agencies would perpetuate a cruel joke on Pakistanis whose rights have been violated.”