President Asif Ali Zardari has signed into law the National Commission for Human Rights Bill 2012, thus honouring a long-standing international obligation designed to safeguard human rights in the country. The commission (NCHR) is invested with comprehensive authority, by which it may probe into complaints of abuses by not just civilian, but also the armed forces and intelligence agencies. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar, commenting on the formation of the commission, observed on Wednesday, “Today, Pakistan has fulfilled a core requirement of the two-decade-old Paris Declaration calling upon the states to set up independent human rights commissions that was reiterated by the United Nation in 2008 soon after the present government took office.” The importance of the NCHR also lies in the fact that of late reports of excessive abuses of HR rights have been surfacing from all over the country, in particular Balochistan, where reports of such abuses are rampant.
The composition of the NCHR inspires confidence, but only if it is absolutely impartial and without fear can investigate any and all concerns, no matter which quarter they may implicate. Having the powers of a civil court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908, it could take suo moto action or on a petition filed by a victim or anyone else on his/her behalf. The NCHR would have 10 members, including the Chairperson: a member each from all the four provinces, Fata, Islamabad Capital Authority, and Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (ex-officio member). Minority communities will be represented, giving hope that any and all harrasment cases will be seriously dealth with. At least two of its members are to be women. And the Chairperson, to be chosen through consultation between the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the Opposition, would be a person, who has either been a judge of the Supreme Court or is qualified to be so.
The NCHR is to be funded by unconditional grants. Concerns by commentators of 'gratuitous civilian interference’ into the armed forces are to be dismissed with scorn, as civilian control over the armed forces is a fundamental requirement of the Constitution and any smoothly functioning democracy anywhere in the world. And the act is a step towards that goal.