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Pakistani's top judge sets up complaint offices for minorities

Church leaders and politicians welcome move to protect rights of 'vulnerable' plaintiffs

ucanews.com reporter, Lahore

ucanews.com reporter, Lahore

Published: April 02, 2018 05:56 AM GMT

Updated: April 02, 2018 06:06 AM GMT

Pakistani's top judge sets up complaint offices for minorities

In this March 2017 file photo a private security guard escorts Christian priests in Lahore's congested Youhanabad district, the largest Christian neighbourhood in Pakistan. Critics say religious minorities can still face discrimination during court proceedings. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)

The chief justice of Pakistan has set up two separate offices to hear applications made by Pakistani minorities and alleged victims of human rights abuses at the Lahore registry of the country's Supreme Court.

CJP Mian Saqib Nisar ordered his staff to organize the two cells on March 25 in a bid to protect "vulnerable" plaintiffs while he was hearing a case that involved the killing of a man in a police shootout.

He appears to have made the decision after encountering the mother of the deceased one day earlier outside the court.

The woman reportedly tried to block his vehicle from leaving the compound after she had been unable to contact him through regular channels.

"I was barred by my security staff from meeting this woman," he said.

"This troubled me. As such, I have decided to establish two offices — one for minorities and the other for human rights cases — in our Lahore office to swiftly receive and address such complaints."

Christian political groups and rights activists hailed the move, which follows calls by Pakistani bishops for a fairer voting system for minorities.

"We welcome and appreciate the chief justice's order," Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a lawyer and founder of the Pakistan Minorities Alliance (PMA), a political party, told ucanews.com.

"However, if the authorities had implemented Justice Tassaduq Jillani's order [issued four years ago] we would not have needed these offices," he added.

He was referring to a landmark ruling on June 19, 2014 by a three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Jillani, who served as chief justice at the time.

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The ruling 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.

"Justice Tassaduq's verdict covered all aspects of the challenges faced by religious minorities," Chaudhry said.

"Now the focus should be on implementing his verdict."

Aftab Gill, a spokesman for the Masiha Millat Party (Christian Nation Party), said the decision to set up the cells had come as minorities "are in their hour of need."

"The order shows the chief justice cares for all of the communities who live in the country," Gill told ucanews.com.

"But it remains to be seen how the Supreme Court cell will provide relief to people from minorities who can't afford expensive lawyers to fight their cases," he said.

The apex court had earlier requested that the government form a special task force to protect venues where minorities go to worship.

This followed a petition by Justice Helpline, a Karachi-based law firm, in relation to a series of suicide attacks on a Catholic church in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Senior clerics have long called for greater protections for minorities.

"Separate offices are good if the decision was taken in light of the 2014 verdict by the apex court," said Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, national director of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace.

"We must support this development and the benefits it offers. We will study the judge's order comprehensively to see what measures should be taken," he said, adding an important caveat.

"However, it's important minorities aren't isolated," he added.

"I oppose that kind of treatment. Sadly, neither the police nor the government seem to be very serious about implementing positive rulings like this. 

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