ISLAMABAD, May 29: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul has called for clear criteria guiding the use of suo motu in Pakistan, saying the lack of such a law can undermine its own nature and may jeopardise pending cases from being timely considered by the Supreme Court.
Releasing a preliminary report at the conclusion of her 11-day visit to Pakistan here on Tuesday, Ms Knaul said that by using the suo motu procedure in some cases the Supreme Court of Pakistan was upholding human rights law and contributing to combating impunity.
“I commend the use of inherent powers of the Supreme Court in recent cases related to gross human rights violations like the case of enforced disappearance referred to as ‘missing persons’ in Balochistan,” she said.
Ms Knaul is the first mandate holder of a Special Procedure of the Human Rights Council to undertake an official mission to Pakistan after 13 years. She will present her report to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Encouraged by the response of the government, she hoped that the doors would remain open for other mandate holders of the special procedures who had expressed interest to visit Pakistan.
The UN special rapporteur urged the government to apply jurisdiction of highest courts enshrined in the Constitution to the whole of Pakistan since many could be deprived of their constitutional rights. She avoided elaborating her observation when asked, but said she believed that “a uniform legal system enshrined in the Constitution is necessary in order to avoid ambiguities and discrepancies in the administration of justice”.
In the preliminary report, Ms Knaul said that the recognition of another superior higher court, the Federal Shariat Court, in the Constitution has created an ambiguity.
“The existence of two superior courts in the Constitution is problematic and leaves space for interpretations which might be contradicting,” she believed.
The UN special rapporteur expressed concern over cases brought under blasphemy law for which she used the term ‘so-called’ and explained that judges had been coerced to decide against the accused even without supporting; as for the lawyers, in addition to their reluctance to take up such cases, they were targeted and forced not to represent their clients properly.
In addition, judges, prosecutors and lawyers working on cases related to terrorist acts and organised crime were also often the target of serious threats and attacks from various actors, including non-state actors, she said.
As part of her mission, the UN special rapporteur paid attention to the integration of a gender perspective and women’s rights in the justice system, and expressed concern that there were currently no women sitting on the Supreme Court and only two women in the high courts.
Ms Knaul said that she was further struck by reports of existing laws, such as the blasphemy law, being misused to target women and strip them off of their fundamental rights. Many stages of the justice system, starting with filing a case with the police, to accessing lawyers and appearing and testifying before courts, were gender-biased, and therefore impeded the full functioning of justice for women, she said.
She expressed deep concern over the poor quality of investigations carried out by police service.