ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Monday directed the government to fill the vacant posts of the heads of the National Commission on the Status of Women and the National Commission for Human Rights.
A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah issued the directions while hearing a petition moved by a lawyer Abdul Khaliq in person. The IHC bench also directed the government to take measures to make these organisations functional. It also directed the federal government to forthwith publish respective fresh public notices strictly in accordance with the provisions of the aforementioned two statutes. The court observed that in order to make the process meaningful and effective, the Ministry of Human Rights is expected to reach out to the relevant stakeholders after publishing of notices for seeking suggestions and some of the stakeholders have been identified in this order. Justice Athar noted in the order, “The Ministry of Human Rights is, therefore, directed to place before the federal cabinet fresh separate summaries along with a copy of this order for initiating the statutory process for filling the vacant posts and making the two important commissions functional at the earliest. In order to avoid further delay, the Ministry of Human Rights and the Cabinet Division are expected to ensure that the respective summaries are placed before the federal cabinet in the first meeting scheduled to be held after receiving a certified copy of this order.”
Through this petition, the petitioner brought to the attention of the court a matter of paramount public importance and he is aggrieved because the National Commission on the Status of Women and the National Commission for Human Rights are dysfunctional since 2019.
During the hearing, the court was informed that pursuant to a decision of the Federal Cabinet taken in its meeting held on 17-11-2020, the concerned Ministry/Division was directed to initiate the process and pursuant to the said decision, the Ministry of Human Rights published public notices in various daily newspapers.
The court observed that perusal of the advertisement/public notice clearly shows that besides inviting suggestions, applications from interested persons were also invited. It added, “A plain reading of section 4 of the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012, unambiguously shows that the legislature has not intended to “invite applications” from interested persons. The language of section 4 is unambiguous. There is a distinction between inviting suggestions for suitable persons and inviting applications from interested persons/ candidates.”
The IHC bench said that the public notice was, therefore, required to have invited suggestions for suitable persons. It is implicit in section 4 that the suggestions were to be made either by citizens or organisations/entities e.g. the Pakistan Bar Council, respective High Court Bar Associations, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists etc. The bench further stated that perusal of the decision of the federal cabinet shows that it had directed the concerned Ministry/Division to initiate the process on the basis of summary placed before it while the summary was based on incorrect interpretation of section 4 of the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012.
It added that the invitation of applications from interested persons was in violation of section 4 of the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012 and it has thus unnecessarily created confusion and delay in constituting the Commissions. The court further noted that section 4 of the National Commission on the Status of Women Act, 2012 explicitly provides that the federal government shall, through public notice, invite suggestions for suitable persons for appointment as chairperson. “It definitely does not require seeking applications from interested persons. Both the commissions are of paramount importance vested with functions and powers of utmost significance in the context of protecting human rights or rights of women, as the case may be,” maintained the court. It continued that the Commissions, therefore, cannot be kept dysfunctional because doing so would be contrary to public interest. Later, the bench deferred the hearing till April 15 for further proceedings.