Human rights experts demand robust legislation for an autonomous Minorities’ Rights Commission

Speakers at a press conference organized by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and Peoples Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR) vehemently criticized the private members’ National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2024 recently introduced in the National Assembly, which, according to them was in conflict with UN Paris principles regarding National Human Rights Institutions. The panelists urged the Federal government to introduce a treasury bill to create a strong legal basis for an independent, autonomous, and effective National Commission for Minorities Rights. Peter Jacob, Dr. A. H. Nayyar, Shafique Chaudhary, Nabila Feroze Bhatti and Fatima Atif were among the panelists at the press conference held at the National Press Club.

Peter Jacob, the executive director of CSJ, expressed civil society reservations on the bill introduced by the treasury, noting that it was a counterfeit of the bill passed by the National Assembly and subsequently dropped by the Senate last year, due to inherent flaws. He regretted that the movers ignored the warning about the effectiveness and weak composition of the proposed body. He expressed dismay that MNAs did not consult any competent Civil Society Organizations, hence displaying a lack of seriousness regarding establishing minorities’ commissions. 

He observed that the minorities commission should concentrate on protecting and promoting minorities' rights and addressing violations, however, assigning this commission the tasks relating to protection, rehabilitation, and preservation of places of worship will be a departure from the functions and mandate of a national human rights institution. He also stressed meritorious appointments on the commission.

Dr. A. H. Nayyar, an academic, researcher, and PCMR member said that the prospective commission should function as an independent human rights institution rather than a religious body. He called for dropping the proposed representation of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA), and the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) from the bill, in line with the other national commissions on human rights, child rights, and women's rights constituted through acts of parliament in Pakistan, otherwise, it will remain under the influence of religious bodies, undermining its independence. 

Nabila Feroze Bhatti referenced the Supreme Court's 2014 directive, which called for the establishment of a minority rights body with a mandate to monitor the practical realization of minorities' rights and provide policy recommendations. He emphasized that the government must constitute an empowered body to fully implement the court's directive.

Shafique Chaudhary said that the government should engage in consultation with key stakeholders to draft a comprehensive bill, and introduce a bill to establish a statutory National Commission for Minorities Rights according to UN Paris Principles to effectively protect and promote the rights of minorities in Pakistan. 

Fatima Atif, a human rights activist, said that the coalition partners of the federal government, including PML-N, PPP, and MQM, have pledged in their 2024 election manifestos to establish a statutory national commission for minorities' rights. She urged political parties in parliament to enact strong legislation to fulfill this promise. She highlighted that civil society has consistently been raising concerns over the establishment of sham minorities’ commission under a federal ministry (MoRA etc.) through executive orders since 1990. These commissions have failed to make significant progress toward policy reforms and remedy violations of minorities' rights, due to limited mandate, lack of independence, powers, and resources.

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