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Reviving the NCHR


August 31, 2019

Pakistan established a National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in compliance with its international obligations through Act XVI of 2012 in accordance with the Paris Principles.

In its preamble, the raison d’être for the establishment of the commission is given as: “to provide for the creation of National Commission for Human Rights, for the purpose of promotion and protection of Human Rights as provided in the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and various international instruments to which Pakistan is state party or shall become a state party.”

The National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012 stipulates a broad and overarching mandate for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights, as provided for in Pakistan’s constitution and international treaties. As an impartial state body, the NCHR works independently of the government and is directly accountable to the parliament of Pakistan. The NCHR’s financial and performance reports are also directly presented to parliament for approval on an annual basis

During the early days of the commission, the NCHR faced several challenges. Acceptance of the independence of the commission was a new idea which was not being taken that easily by the authorities concerned. They had to be educated on the need for such an institution. The chairman of the NCHR even faced bullying by the then chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. The NCHR’s role as the best mechanism for promotion and advancement of human rights which is now the soft face of the present regime needs to be accepted and given due appreciation.

The NCHR, however, has stood the test of time and has taken proactive measures in pursuance of its huge mandate and has earned praise at many recognized international and national platforms. In a short time, the NCHR has established a complaint cell, conducted numerous fact-finding exertions, published 38 high-quality research reports, provided legislative input to parliament on subjects such as enforced disappearances, child abuse and transgender rights, and held several advocacy seminars and consultations on the pressing human rights issues in the country.

The establishment of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) also helped Pakistan get the GSP Plus status. The NCHR’s services for Pakistan’s case for GSP+ were also recognized by the Ministry of Commerce in an official letter

After the first commission completed its tenure on May 24, 2019, the formation of new commission has yet to take place. The delay is due to some technicalities in the process of seeking nominations for the new chairperson and member of the commission. I would like to point out here that the deferral is not looking good for the government and for Pakistan’s international commitments for the protection and promotion of human rights.

The NCHR is the only institution which can oversee violations of human rights by all institutions of state. It is a court to adjudicate human rights violation cases. Since there is no commission in place at the moment, all of this has come to a halt. Complaints are piling without a remedy and thus justice is being denied even to families in cases of enforced disappearances where the NCHR played a role without interfering with security concerns. Torture cases are in the increase, embellishing our values. More delay in constituting the NCHR will hit our case for GSP Plus. We committed before the EU to establish an independent commission and therefore we got an extension.

I may also emphasize that only an independent commission like the NCHR can meet the national aspirations on Kashmir through an effective role, taking forward the Kashmir policy formulated by the republic. The NCHR could have been demonstrating at Geneva, London and in New York, bringing to the notice of the world the atrocities of the Indian forces in Kashmir. This is also to urge the government to take up the issue on human rights grounds to the ICJ and to do its homework for getting anther resolution passed by the UNGA.

Whereas the government’s efforts for highlighting/educating the Kashmir issue internationally are appreciated, the matter cannot be left to the government alone. National institutions like the NCHR have locus standi under the Paris Principles and various resolutions of the UN General Assembly.

The avenues for raising voice for Kashmir which were accessible to the NCHR are inter alia the following: a) OHCHR Geneva; b) members of GAHNRI throughout the world; c) the Asia-Pacific Forum; d) committees of the United Nations; and e) special rapporteur on ICCPR and ICESR, special rapporteur relating to India, the African Union, the Human Rights Committee of African Union and the EU.

It’s for the people in power to get sensitized over the immediate resurrection of the NCHR so that it can work in tandem with the government and keep the momentum on, and increase the sweep nationally and internationally.

It goes to the credit of the government that the UN Security Council could meet behind closed doors and in an informal session. What has happened is laudable but not enough. Things have to be re-agitated.

The NCHR is therefore the best forum for performing altruistically this national duty for the promotion and protection of human rights nationally and in Kashmir too. The government should not cause further delay in resurrecting the NCHR as this will be a national loss.

The writer is the former chairperson of the National Commission on Human Rights.