State responsible for upholding minority rights, says LHC CJ 

Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti has said that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the equality of all citizens irrespective of their faith affiliations, stressing that the protection of minority rights was not merely a legal obligation, it was also a moral responsibility of the state. 

The chief justice was speaking at a minority rights conference on the issue of ‘Constitutional Rights of Minorities and Responsibilities of the State’ organised at a local hotel on Monday. Other keynote speakers included Church of Pakistan’s President Bishop Azad Marshall and human rights activist Peter Jacob.

“Pakistan’s Constitution encapsulates the visionary ideals of a society marked by justice and inclusivity. Our gathering today reflects not just a shared commitment but a collective responsibility to translate the principles laid out in our Constitution into tangible actions,” Justice Bhatti said in his speech.

The senior judge said that the tenets of equality, protection of minority rights, and religious freedom were highlighted by Pakistan's founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. “During his August 11, 1947, speech to the Pakistani Constituent Assembly, he made a few noteworthy remarks concerning minorities. He outlined the ideals that should guide the newly formed country's government in this speech,” the CJ said.

Bhatti said that Pakistan was established on the fundamental ideals of justice, equality, and freedom for every citizen.

“Various constitutional provisions, including Article 20 (freedom of religion), Article 25 (equality of citizens), Article 36 (protection of minorities), and Article 37 (promotion of social justice and eradication of social evils), explicitly ensure the rights and freedoms of minorities. However, the effective implementation of these provisions faces challenges rooted in discrimination, intolerance, violence, and extremism. Consequently, the role of the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court of Pakistan, emerges as pivotal in upholding and enforcing the rights of minorities in our nation,” said the CJ.

The court held that the Constitution of Pakistan does not bar the appointment of non-Muslims as judges of the Supreme Court or the High Courts, and that the principle of merit should be the sole criterion for such appointments. The court also directed the government to take steps to ensure the adequate representation of minorities in the judicial service of Pakistan, he said.

He added that the state must ensure the protection and promotion of minority rights. Laws such as the Protection of the Rights of Minorities Act underscore the commitment to safeguarding these rights, he stressed.

Addressing the participants, Bishop Azad Marshall lauded the judiciary's commitment to upholding justice and equality for all, especially the representatives of the minority communities.

However, the bishop said that Pakistani minorities continued to face the challenge of the implementation of their rights despite the constitutional guarantees.

“The gap between the lofty ideals enshrined in our Constitution and the on-ground realities faced by religious minorities is a cause for concern. Instances of discrimination, persecution, and violence against minorities are not just a violation of individual rights but a blemish on the very fabric of our democracy,” Marshall said.
The senior church leader said that the judiciary's conciliatory and adjudicatory role is a beacon of hope for those who have been wronged and marginalized. “Your interventions and directives can pave the way for not only addressing individual grievances but also for systemic reforms that ensure the protection and promotion of minority rights,” Marshall said.

He said that the recent surge in violence against religious places and communities, the misuse of blasphemy laws, and the challenges related to forced conversions and child marriages are pressing concerns that demand urgent attention and action.
“Your Lordship, as we stand here, seeking justice and advocating for the rights of the marginalized, we are reminded of the divine injunctions that place justice at the heart of societal harmony and peace. The wisdom of prophets and scholars, like Micah and C.S. Lewis, remind us that justice, tempered with mercy and humility, is the cornerstone of a righteous and harmonious society,” he said.

By embracing diversity, safeguarding equality and promoting inclusion, we can truly honour Jinnah’s vision and build a brighter future for all Pakistanis, he concluded.

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