Bill to form council for minorities ready

Body will safeguard rights provided under Constitution


​ Our Correspondent April 23, 2020
Representational image. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: Six years after the apex court had issued a verdict for establishing a National Council for Minorities, a constitutional bill for this purpose is finally ready to be presented before parliament.

The draft of bill, titled “National Council for Minorities Act, 2020”, has been shared by a commission headed by Dr Shoaib Suddle with various stakeholders, including the attorney general, the Prime Minister’s Office, secretaries of various ministries, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) chairman, the provincial advocates general, chief secretaries and the Islamabad chief commissioner, seeking their recommendations within two weeks to increase the independence and effectiveness of the proposed council.

“There shall be a National Council for Minorities, to advance the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution,” the draft stated. “The council shall be headed by a chairperson, to be appointed by the president of Pakistan on the advice of the prime minister,” it added.

For the first time in the country’s history, the chairperson and all other members of the body would belong to the non-Muslim communities.

The establishment of the council will address the inadequacies in the existing mechanisms and act as a vanguard for the protection of minorities’ rights. “The establishment of the council is also an obligation of the government under the landmark judgment of the Supreme of Pakistan [PLD 2014 SC 699] authored by the then chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani,” the draft read.

The one-member commission, headed by Dr Suddle, was established in January last year pursuant to the order of the Supreme Court for the implementation of the landmark 2014 judgement regarding protection of minorities’ rights.

A committee comprising Supreme Court lawyer Saqib Jillani, Additional Attorney General Sajjid Ilyas Bhatti and MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani was also formed for this purpose.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court in its judgment in a suo motu case regarding a bomb blast at a church in Peshawar had asked the federal government to form a national council for minorities’ rights.

The court had also asked the government to form a special task force for the protection of the places of worship of minorities.

It said in all cases of violation of any of the rights guaranteed under the law or desecration of the places of worship of minorities, the concerned law enforcing agencies should promptly take action including the registration of criminal cases against the delinquents. “We find that the incidents of desecration of places of worship of minorities could be warded off if the authorities concerned had taken preventive measures at the appropriate time. The court also found that the inaction on the part of law enforcement agencies was on account of the lack of proper understanding of the relevant law,” the verdict read.

The apex court also asked to develop appropriate curricula at school and college level to promote religious tolerance in the country.

“It is time for us as a nation and as individuals to have a moment of reflection, a moment of soul searching and perhaps a moment of reckoning to ask ourselves; have we lived by the pledges made in the Constitution and by the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of this country,” the judgment read.

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