The armed forces will not be immune from scrutiny by the new National Commission of Human Rights (NHCR) for human rights violations, according to the text of the National Commission of Human Rights Bill, 2012 as passed by Senate. The commission will have to investigate all such cases of abuse, including those committed by intelligence agencies.
“It (the bill) shall empower the NCHR to proceed even in respect of armed forces, which means army, navy, air force and all other civil armed forces including the military intelligence agencies,” said Senator Khurshid Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). Senator Khurshid, who is also member of the sub-committee that considered the bill including amendments to it, said: “The bill is a major milestone for Pakistanis.”
The NCHR, which will be headed by a judge of the Supreme Court or a person having demonstrable knowledge of matters relating to human rights will be able to “take suo motu notice, or a notice on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf, inquire into complaints of violation of human rights or negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant.”
According to amendments introduced by the upper house of parliament, this bill will have the power to seek reports from the federal government and make recommendations to the federal government. The commission will consist of a chairperson on the status of women and one member from each province, as well as from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), Islamabad Capital Territory and a representative from minorities. The members of the commission can survey any jail or any clandestine prison to check illegal confinements, stated the bill.
The prime minister, in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, will forward three names for each post to a parliamentary committee for hearing and confirming one person for each post. The committee consisting of two members from the Senate and the National Assembly shall forward the names of the nominees to the president. On the advice of the commission, the government shall appoint an advocate from the list prepared by the commission as long as he/she has been practicing for no less than seven years.
Another significant move which will be brought into play by the bill is the restriction of foreign funding for NGOs in the country without prior approval. The bill will now go to the lower house for voting and if approved, it will be turned into an act of parliament.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who introduced the bill in parliament, said the commission will have an autonomous status with full financial and administrative powers. “This landmark bill will be helpful for the government to take legal action against those who violate human rights in the country,” he added.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairperson Zohra Yusuf termed the passage of the bill a milestone for human rights activists saying, “It will pave the way for poor families seeking justice against violation of human rights.” She added: “(The bill) has been a long time in the making. The government has fulfilled its promise, abiding by the UN’s compulsion.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2012.