ucanews.com reporter, Lahore
Updated: April 02, 2018 06:06 AM GMT
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.
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.
….As we enter the first months of 2022, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.