Pakistan: National Commission for Minorities and UN principles
di Kashif Aslam
The Paris principles adopted in 1993 by the UN General Assembly stated that if any government institution is part of the Commission, it should be on an advisory position and not in the decision-making process. Such a Commission should be composed by people from the human rights body and non-government organizations, in order to promote pluralism and indipendence
The Federal government approved to establish the National Commission on Minorities (NCM) in Pakistan. Initially, the government also announced to include the Ahmadi Muslim in the Commission as they are also declared minority as per the 1973’s constitution of Pakistan. Though, no one asked or considered to consult and obtain the opinion of the Ahmadya Community as they call themselves “Muslim” but not minority.
As a result of the statement of the government, a rigorous and dangerous campaign against the Ahmadya community started and also trended on social media. TV channels and hosts took part in fueling the issue rather than play a neutral role to safeguard the rights of the religious minorities guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan (Article 36). This hate/dangerous speech campaign is going on and demanding for the culprits who proposed include Ahmadya in the commission. Hence, this Sunni diaspora is busy in spreading this hate but on the other side there is a debate on the legality and the spirit of the announced commission. To get a better understanding let us dig into the national and international human rights framework and context.
The Paris Principles Adopted by General Assembly resolution 48/134 of 20 December 1993, set some points to establish the National Human Rights Institutions as to:
- Protect human rights, including by receiving, investigating and resolving complaints, mediating conflicts and monitoring activities; and
- Promote human rights, through education, outreach, the media, publications, training and capacity building, as well as advising and assisting the Government.
Also, the Paris Principles sets 6 points the NHRIs to meet in their respective states/countries: Mandate and competence: a broad mandate, based on universal human rights norms and standards; Autonomy from Government; Independence guaranteed by statute or Constitution; Pluralism; Adequate resources; Adequate powers of investigation.
First of all, to establish the Commission for the religious minorities, on the 19th June 2014, the then Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani gave a verdict by combining miscellaneous petitions, and took a “suo motu” notice after the suicide blast in All Saints Church Peshawar, to protect the rights of the religious minorities.
As part of the judgement, he ordered to establish a national minority Council to address the issues. Though, the implementation on the decision has been pending for long. Finally in 2019 the apex court’s three-member bench set up a single person commission in the leadership of retired police officer Dr. Shoaib Suddle, with three members: Barrister Saqib Jillani, the petitioner, to enforce the 19th June Judgement , Dr. Ramesh Kumar (representative of Hindu Council) and with the Additional Attorney General. The Suddle Commission held some meetings and asked the provincial secretaries to implement the 19th June judgement and report back to the commission.
Although the Commission could not succeed to implement the judgement, the government announced a new council for the rights of the religious minorities. Furthermore, on May 5th the cabinet approved to establish the “National Council for Minorities” with the exclusion of Ahmadya as stated by the federal minister Shibli Faraz that "they do not fall in the definition of minority at all".
The Council will be headed by a Hindu Businessman and a PTI leader Chela Ram Khelwani, with three members from each Christian and Hindu community and two members from Sikh and one member from Kelash and Parsi along with the Mulana Khabir Azad and Mufti Gulzar Ahmad Naeemi from the majority (Muslim) community to be part of the council. The pertinent part of the council is the six official (from the government) members from Interior, law and Justice, human rights, education, religious affairs and Islamic Ideology will also be the members along with non-official members in the council.
Including members from the government ministries is totally against the Paris principles. Civil society organizations and bodies, concerned with the rights of the religious minorities, expressed their grievences and reservations over the formation of the council: it is clearly against the 19th June, 2014 order of apex court as well as a contempt of the court in-lieu ongoing work of Dr. Suddle commission formed by the three-member bench of the apex court. The Paris principles stated that if any government institution is part of the commission then they should be on an advisory position and not in the decision-making process.
Not surprisingly though the Chair of the Suddle Commission challenged the move of the government to form the NCM in the apex court (Supreme Court) and the supreme court ordered the attorney general the petition filled through the additional attorney general plead the apex court to: “direct Secretary Ministry of Religious Affairs to explain why the undertaking given to the Supreme Court on 19-02-2020 in relation to establishment of statutory National Council for Minorities has been violated, which is tantamount to contempt of Court”.
The Paris principles adopted on 1993 General Assembly clearly stated that a Commission should be based on the compositions in-terms of the pluralistic and independency of the commission, persons from the human rights body and non-government organizations, concerned social organisations, lawyers and journalists. However, the afore-mentioned stakeholders are concerned with the composition announced by the government as it is totally biased and toothless council and will do exactly what they government want it to do. So, the civil society organizations including the “National Commission for Justice and Peace” also rejects the Council and demands for a neutral and independent commission with the mandate to work and focus:
- to carry out fact finding missions on the cases;
- -to adopt cases of individuals on its own powers;
- sufficient funds to operationalizes in the country;
- to review and monitor the legislative process; to propose new legislation and policies on the basis of the international human rights standards.
For now, the civil society organizations are demanding to the government to take back the decision and through a consultative and due process with the stakeholders form the concerned bodies of human rights, NGOs, lawyers and journalist should be included so that an independent and autonomous commission could be establish and the spirit of the landmark judgement of 19th June, 2014 could be ensured. This is the only solution and resolve of the situation and the government should immediately reverse this decision.