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October 21, 2016

Civil society, govt engaged to propose changes to Sindh human rights law


October 21, 2016

SHRC’s annual report for year 2015 also launched

As various human rights organisations’ yearly reports continue to identify not one but a plethora of rights violations, it was only apt that the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC), on Thursday, organised a consultation aimed at gathering recommendations to better the amended draft of the Sindh Human Rights Act, 2011, and empower the commission.

The consultative meeting was mainly led by SHRC chairperson, Justice (Retd) Majida Rizvi, and other members of the legal fraternity including Justice (Retd) Shaiq Usmani, Justice (Retd) Ali Aslam Jaffri and Maliha Zia Lari.

Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Human Rights, Rehana Leghari, was invited as a representative of the government, whereas civil society members and organisations were included in the consultation as stakeholders.

The amended draft, presented by Hammad Saeed of The Asia Foundation, focused on enhancing the structure and power of the Act, subsequently the commission. The changes made, and brought under discussion, to the SHRA included clarifying preliminary definitions of ‘honorary members’ and ‘members’ of the SHRC, as well as the definition of ‘human rights’ in the Act. However, the criterion of eligibility to be appointed as a member of the commission was also covered.

While the chairperson was decided to have either served or was qualified to serve as a judge of the High Court, the remaining six members included two provincial assembly members, one each from the treasury and the opposition benches; while one of the two judiciary members were suggested to be a woman who had either been a district and sessions judge or additional district and sessions judge.

The judges were said to have an experience of dealing with human rights or gender based violence, however, according to Maleeha the approach was too narrow. Her recommendation of appointing judges who had dealt with other kinds of violence as well was included in the recommendations.

Besides, two members of the commission were decided to be from the civil society who had had at least seven years of demonstrable knowledge or practical experience with respect to human rights.

The provincial government was also suggested to provide the commission with necessary investigative staff, including a police officer not below the rank of a DIG, as well as technical and scientific staff besides any other officials that the commission deemed necessary for its probe.


Powers and functions

As far as the commission’s power to inquire into complaints was concerned, the amendments stated that the committee while inquiring a violation may ask the government or any other concerned authority/organisation subordinate to it, to submit information or report regarding the inquiry.

The information or report was to be submitted within a stipulated time, which if lapsed would empower the commission to proceed to inquire into the complaint on its own.

Furthermore, any person’s statement made in front of the commission could not be used against the individual in any civil or criminal proceeding, except prosecution but only if the information or evidence provided was false. The SHRC was also empowered to preserve the identity, wherever it felt necessary, of the complainant or the person who furnished or proposed to furnish any information or document; either directly to the commission or to a person acting for or on behalf of the commission.

As for the commission’s funding was concerned, the body, besides being given the annual amount allocated in the yearly budget, also had the right to accept grants or other kinds of financial help by private individuals and national and international agencies and non-governmental organisations.

Raising concerns of donors strong-arming the commission on the pretext of granting financial aid, Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi categorically stated that no member of the commission would be empowered enough to pull such an act. The funds of the commission were further suggested to be looked over by a financial committee instead of the chairperson, for better transparency.

In another amendment, no court was to have the jurisdiction to either entertain any proceedings, or make any order in relation to the work carried out under the Act, unless was specifically authorised under the Act.

Earlier, the commission’s annual report, 2015 was launched by Justice (retd) Majida, Rehana Leghari and Farmanullah of The Asia Foundation. 

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