IHC forms body to probe into rights abuse in jails

Published: November 22, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday formed a commission to investigate into the human rights violations and the lack of medical assistance to ailing prisoners in the country’s jails.

The commission headed by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari will also probe into the government’s failure to fulfill its obligations and enforce the Prison Rules and the Code of Criminal Procedure regarding inmates suffering from illness.

The verdict, penned by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, came on a complaint filed by a prisoner, Khadim Hussain, incarcerated at Adiala Jail. The prisoner claimed that his eyesight had been damaged because of the negligence of the jail authorities and he did not have the financial means to approach a court.

The court converted his complaint into a petition.

The commission will include the secretaries of the interior and health ministries, the chief secretaries of the four provinces, former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Zohra Yousaf, journalist Ghazi Shahabuddin, Supreme Court lawyer and philanthropist Zia Awan and former FIA director General Tariq Khosa. The human rights secretary will serve the as the commission’s secretary.

The commission will “investigate human rights violations in the prisons of Pakistan and lack of medical assistances and obstacles in access to a court of law of prisoners who do not have means or assistance in this regard.”

It has also been assigned the task of carrying out “a review of the Prisons Rules and other relevant laws with an object of fulfilling the commitments of the State of Pakistan under the Constitution, International Treatise and Conventions”.

The body will prepare proposals to deal with the human rights violations in prisons and suggest amendments to the existing law and rules.

It will also come up with proposals for appropriate governance and management systems and ensuring individual and institutional accountability.

The commission will hold its first meeting within seven days after receiving a copy of the court verdict and submit a compliance report.

The court also directed the health secretary to form medical boards in each province in consultation with the respective chief secretaries to examine the health of prisoners.

The medical boards will ensure that prisoners are provided with proper medical treatment.

The court also directed the health secretary to contact the Punjab chief secretary and ensure that the petitioner was provided with medical treatment.

“It is the duty of the state to ensure that a prisoner suffering from a serious illness or disease is not only provided with the highest attainable standard of health services but in exceptional circumstances suspend the sentence by exercising powers vested under the Prison Rules,” the judgement read.

“When cases end up in the courts relating to prisoners suffering from serious illnesses and disease seeking bail or suspension of sentence it manifests that the executive authorities have failed to perform functions and exercise powers stemming from the obligations imposed under the law and the constitution.”

The IHC noted that every time a prisoner approached the court for bail or suspension of sentence, the onus would be on the state to show to the satisfaction of the court that the functionaries had not neglected the duty of care it owed to each prisoner.

The failure of the government, it observed, had devastating consequences for the thousands of helpless prisoners held in custody in “deplorable inhuman conditions”.

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