05/08/2020, 15.04
PAKISTAN
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Pakistani activists demand an independent minority rights commission

by Shafique Khokhar

They want an act of parliament, in accordance with a 2014 Supreme Court decision, rather than a government committee. For Peter Jakob, the cabinet is guilty of contempt the court and has violated its constitutional and international obligations. For experts, without a legislative basis, a commission is useless.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Human rights activists and lawyers are opposed to the creation of a national minorities commission directly reporting to the federal government. The cabinet’s decision goes against its previous commitment to set up an independent body.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court, in a historic ruling, ordered the government to create an independent body to protect minority rights.

On 19 February 2019, federal authorities made a submission to the Court announcing that it would set up a commission through an act of parliament. Instead, it did the opposite.

According to Peter Jacob, chairman of the People’s Commission on Minority Rights, by choosing to create an ad hoc committee within the Religious Affairs Ministry, the government is guilty of contempt of court.

The decision is also a violation of certain international conventions, in addition to a breach of the government’s ethical and moral obligation to protect the rights of minorities, as enshrined in the Constitution.

On Wednesday, with the support of representatives of other civil society groups, Jakob said that he would challenge the cabinet’s decision before the Supreme Court.

For Hina Jillani, lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur, and Khawar Mumtaz, former head of the National Commission on the Status of Women, a minorities commission will only be effective if it is created just like other national commissions, through an act of parliament.

For them, the body set up by the government is useless, as it lacks legal force and independence.

Historian and political scientist Yaqoob Bangash notes that ad hoc government committees on minorities have been set up in the past three decades but have not met more than once a year at most, and made no legally binding decisions.

According to various sources, Ahmadi, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Shias are the most discriminated minorities in Pakistan, a country of 212 million inhabitants, mostly ethnic Punjabi and Sunni Muslim.

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