Saturday February 04, 2023

Human rights courts

By Editorial Board
November 28, 2022

In a welcome move, the government has designated the Courts of District and Session Judges (East and West) Islamabad as Human Rights Courts for speedy trial of offences related to the people's human rights. The government made this announcement after the Islamabad High Court had ordered it to create human rights courts to deal with cases arising out of human rights violations. The National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) Act 2012 that the PPP government had introduced during its last government nearly a decade ago stipulates the establishment of such courts. But somehow successive federal governments have failed to complete the process of establishing and notifying such courts. As it is under the purview of the Ministry of Law and Justice, the onus to establish the courts was on its shoulders. For the purpose of speedy trial of offences arising out of human rights violations, the NCHR Act had clearly enunciated the need for these courts. A similar move is needed in the provinces too.

The provincial governments should take a cue from this step and specify Courts of Sessions to be Human Rights Courts for all districts in their respective provinces to try such offences. In addition there is also a need for ministries of human rights in all provinces. It is worth recalling that per the 18th Constitutional Amendment Act 2010 many responsibilities were entrusted to provincial governments, including implementation at the provincial level of human rights laws. Provincial human rights departments have been created but mostly they are attached with some other entities. For example, in Balochistan it is the Human Rights Wing working with the Interprovincial Coordination Department whereas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa it is with law and parliamentary affairs. Keeping in view the number of human rights violations in all provinces, it seems imperative that they create human rights ministries and establish human rights courts to deal with the alarmingly increasing number of such cases.

Just to cite one instance, there are cases of custodial torture across the country but there is no separate redress mechanism for such cases. If there is an HR ministry at the provincial level and HR courts at the district level, there is a strong likelihood that the victims of such torture will have access to justice in a speedy manner. The same is the case with juvenile prisoners who are mostly at the receiving end of injustice nearly everywhere in Pakistan. These prisoners deserve sympathetic ears and speedy trials which are only possible if there are HR courts specified in each district of the country. Provincial governments need to take proactive measures in this direction and should not wait for their high courts to direct them in this matter. Promotion and protection of human rights is a primary responsibility of federal and provincial governments. The constitution lays down our fundamental human rights – protecting us from their violation is the job of the state.