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July 29, 2017
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Implement the law

Opinion

July 29, 2017

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The annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) suggests that five presidential ordinances were promulgated, 51 laws were legislated by parliament and 81 laws were adopted by provincial legislators during the previous year.

The largest amount of legislative work was carried out by lawmakers from KP, who passed 30 laws. The KP government claims that the KP Assembly is ranked at the first position in Asia and the ninth position in the world in terms of its approach to law-making. But the KP government doesn’t share the ranks and positions as far as its criminal justice system is concerned.

In addition to legislative work, the HRCP’s report states that there are about three million pending cases in various courts of the country. For years, Pakistan has faced challenges in improving its fragile criminal justice system. Military courts have been established for the trial of civilians with a view to provide temporary support. These military courts were legitimised because it was believed that the country’s weak criminal justice system was not suited to deal with ‘extraordinary challenges’.

Surprisingly, these challenges have been ignored by the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) in the report of the Universal Periodic Review (Third Cycle) to the Human Rights Council on the implementation status of the recommendations made during the second cycle.

Although the MoHR has explicitly discussed the legislations introduced during this period, it hasn’t even bothered to discuss the implementation status of these enactments in its report. The report doesn’t contain any comment on what steps had been initiated by the government to strengthen the weak criminal justice system with regard to implementation. It also does not mention if law-making has positively impacted the lives of the people. If yes, how and what are those changes?

In May 2012, Muhammad Nawaz filed a writ petition in the Peshawar High Court seeking the orders of court to direct the provincial government and the law-enforcement agencies to ensure the security of his family against his nephews and members of a jirga. As per the petitionber, his nephews had announced ghag on his two minor daughters. In his petition, he had urged the court to declare the practice of ghag illegal and un-Islamic. At the time, there was no law on the custom.

On his petition, the then PHC chief justice Dost Muhammad Khan issued notices to the provincial government to introduce a legislation that penalises the custom. Soon after, Sitara Ayaz, the then minister for social welfare, passed the KP Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012 in the provincial assembly.

Ghag has been defined by the KP Elimination of Custom of Ghag Act, 2013 as a “custom, usage, tradition or practice whereby a person forcibly demands or claims the hand of a woman, without her own or her parents’ will”. As per the definition provided under the 2013 legislation, a man proclaims that the woman is engaged to him and that no other man shall make a marriage proposal to her or marry her. He may also threaten her parents and other relatives to ensure that they do not get her married off to anyone else.

After the legislation was introduced, the latest victim of ghag is the sister of Muhammad Saud, a resident of Mardan district. They registered an FIR against their cousin Rabnawaz, charging him with pronouncing ghag on their younger sister. The accused allegedly threatened the woman’s family with dire consequences if someone else married to the girl. The police arrested the accused after charging him under the law. He was sent to jail by the magistrate and was later on released on bail.

The girl’s family has started feeling insecure after Rabnawaz’s release but the issue has not been resolved. Rabnawaz has neither apologised to the girl’s family nor has he denounced the ghag. The human rights cell of the Peshawar High Court took notice of the incident and has demanded a report from the district and sessions judge in Mardan after the news was published in newspapers.

How long will this case go on for? What are the chances that the accused will be punished? We don’t have clear answers to these questions. The major stakeholders of KP’s criminal justice system are still not fully aware about what ghag means. All they know is that it is a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence and there is a law on the subject.

The KP government should provide concrete answers to a cluster of questions. Why was the 2013 legislation enacted? Has the law remained successful in achieving its goal? Has it been instrumental in reducing the incidence of ghag in the province and protecting women from becoming a victim of this cruel practice? If yes, then to what extent? If not, then what steps have been initiated for its proper implementation?  Has the government has fulfilled its duty to protect the lives of the people from this custom by promulgating the 2013 legislation? Or has its duty remained unaccomplished without the proper implementation of this law?

Cases of ghag are seldom reported in the media and it is believed that this practice is destroying the lives of many girls in KP and Fata. There is a consensus among the people that the implementation of laws is a major issue for our country. The federal and provincial governments should take concrete steps to improve the implementation mechanism of these laws. To achieve this, efforts should be made to reform and strengthen investigation and prosecution procedures and the court and prison structures.

 

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: s_irshadahmad

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