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Tuesday February 27, 2024

Constitution upholds dignity of every citizen: LHC CJ

By Our Correspondent
February 13, 2024

LAHORE:Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Muhammad Ameer Bhatti has said constitutional guarantee not only upholds the dignity of every individual but also firmly asserts the equality of all citizens, irrespective of their faith. It encapsulates the visionary ideals of a society marked by justice and inclusivity.

Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Muhammad Ameer Bhatti. — Lahore High Court Website
Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Muhammad Ameer Bhatti. — Lahore High Court Website

He was speaking at a minority rights conference on the issue of ‘Constitutional Rights of Minorities and Responsibilities of the state of Pakistan’ organised by IMRF at a local hotel here on Monday. He said, “Our gathering today reflects not just a shared commitment but a collective responsibility to translate the principles laid out in our Constitution into tangible actions. The protection of minority rights is not merely a legal obligation, it is a moral imperative and a duty we owe to our fellow citizens.”

CJ of LHC added, “The tenets of equality, protection of minority rights, and religious freedom were highlighted by Pakistan's founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.” During his August 11, 1947, speech to the Pakistani Constituent Assembly, he made a few noteworthy remarks concerning minorities. He outlined the ideals that should guide the newly formed country's government in this speech, the CJ said.

"You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state." Our cherished nation, Pakistan, was established on the fundamental ideals of justice, equality, and freedom for every citizen, irrespective of their religious or ethnic affiliations. Within the diverse fabric of Pakistan, the rights of minorities are crucial for fostering a harmonious coexistence in our society. Today's gathering offers us a chance to contemplate the constitutional principles that support these rights and recognize the central role played by the state in meeting its responsibilities to its citizens, he added. He said that the constitutional guarantee not only upholds the dignity of every individual but also firmly asserts the equality of all citizens, irrespective of their faith. It encapsulates the visionary ideals of a society marked by justice and inclusivity.

The protection of minority rights is a crucial and delicate matter in Pakistan, where diverse religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups coexist. Various constitutional provisions, including Article 20 (freedom of religion), Article 25 (equality of citizens), Article 36 (protection of minorities), and Article 37 (promotion of social justice and eradication of social evils), explicitly ensure the rights and freedoms of minorities. However, the effective implementation of these provisions faces challenges rooted in discrimination, intolerance, violence, and extremism. Consequently, the role of the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court of Pakistan, emerges as pivotal in upholding and enforcing the rights of minorities in our nation, said CJ.

He said in the case of Al-Jehad Trust v. Federation of Pakistan(PLD 1996 SC 324), the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a landmark judgment on the matter of the representation of minorities in the superior judiciary.

The court held that the Constitution of Pakistan does not bar the appointment of non-Muslims as judges of the Supreme Court or the High Courts, and that the principle of merit should be the sole criterion for such appointments. The court also directed the government to take steps to ensure the adequate representation of minorities in the judicial service of Pakistan, he said.

He added that the state must ensure the protection and promotion of minority rights. Laws such as the Protection of the Rights of Minorities Act underscore the commitment to safeguarding these rights.

The judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, through another landmark judgments, has reinforced the constitutional guarantees of minority rights. Notably, in the Justice Dorab Patel case (Asma Jilani vs. The Government of the Punjab; PLD 1972 SC 139) the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared martial law imposed by General Yahya Khan in 1969 as illegal and unconstitutional, and restored democratic rule in Pakistan. The Court also affirmed the rights of minorities, such as the Bengalis, who were subjected to discrimination and oppression by the military regime, he said.

He shared that similarly, in the case of suo moto Case No.1 of 2014 (PLD 2014 SC 699), the Supreme Court of Pakistan took suo moto notice of the attacks on the places of worship of the Christian and Hindu communities in Lahore and Larkana, respectively. The court ordered the federal and provincial governments to take immediate measures to protect the lives, property, and dignity of the minorities, and to ensure the implementation of the National Action Plan for Human Rights. The court also directed the government to form a council for the protection of minority rights and religious harmony, and to frame policy recommendations that would enhance the protection of minority rights and encourage religious tolerance in Pakistan.

He said, “It is crucial to recognise that our commitment to minority rights is not only a legal obligation but also a moral and religious duty.”