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Pakistani activists reject 'sham' agency for minorities

Rights organizations vow to resist the setting up of a 'toothless' National Commission for Minorities

Pakistani activists reject 'sham' agency for minorities

Pakistani Christians protest in Karachi in April 2019 against the suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka. Reporting on non-Muslims in Pakistan is limited and they get little coverage in mainstream media beyond the tragedies they suffer. (Photo: AFP)

Civil society organizations in Pakistan have slammed the reconstitution of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) as a "sham" due to the lack of a political consensus of the major parties in the country.

The federal cabinet on April 20 approved the reconstitution of the NCM in a weekly meeting. According to Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister, the new commission will now comprise two Muslims, two Hindus, three Christians and one member each from the Sikh, Parsi and Kailash communities, while its chairman will also come from a minority.

Minorities had been demanding an independent commission since 2014 when the Supreme Court bench, headed by former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, ordered the federal government to set up a national council to monitor human rights cases and ensure that constitutionally enshrined safeguards were put in place to protect the rights of minorities.

In February, former parliamentary affairs minister Azam Swati said the NCM had completed its three-year tenure and had taken 61 decisions including taking notice on the burning of a Christian couple in Kasur district in Punjab province in 2014 after they were falsely accused of desecrating the Quran.

Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of the Centre for Social Justice, rejected the existence of this commission.

 “Governments have been claiming the existence of such ghost bodies for the past two decades. The performance of a functional NCM was internationally reported last in 1992. Since then, every government gathers its own parliamentarians in a so-called council for minorities,” he told UCA News.

“Ad-hoc commissions, made through administrative powers, had been set up by various governments which did not serve the purpose of protection of human rights. There are no funds for them. Without a strong legal basis, the new commission will merely delay resolving long-standing issues of institutional and structural inequality and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.” 

In a joint statement released on April 21, the Centre for Social Justice, Peoples’ Commission for Minorities' Rights and the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation vowed to resist the setting up of a “toothless” NCM.

“The move is a blatant aberration from the orders of the Supreme Court. Anything less than an empowered, independent and statutory body that has a role in making policies, holding inquiries and providing remedies into human rights violations, will not be acceptable to us,” the statement said.

“Keeping to the guidelines of the UN for human rights institutions, anyone holding a political office cannot be part of this commission. These commissions should rather reflect a political consensus of the major parties in the country. If another body is set up without powers and recourses, it will not be able to deliver, therefore we reject this tokenism.”

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The statement added: “Earlier the National Commission for Human Rights, National Commission on Status of Women and Commission of the Rights of the Child, all have been established under proper legislation. We appeal to the prime minister and members of the federal cabinet to review this decision in the interest of the country and establishing respect for human rights.”          

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