While the federal cabinet is set to discuss a summary moved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs that suggests setting up a National Commission for Minorities (NCM) on May 5 (tomorrow), minority rights groups and parliamentarians have vowed to resist what they described as the formation of a toothless body for minorities.
They criticised the religious affairs ministry for proposing the names of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders from the Hindu community for the commission. They said the federal government wanted to make the commission a minority-wing of the ruling party.
Prominent minority rights groups, including the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the Peoples’ Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR), the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, in a joint statement, said the summary for setting up the NCM had failed to meet the intention of the verdict of the Supreme Court passed on June 19, 2014, and the precedent that existed for the establishment of the National Commission for Human Rights, the Commission on the Rights of Child, and the National Commission on Status of Women.
Moreover, this commission was being established in violation of the standards set out in the Paris Principles by the UN, said I A Rehman, Peter Jacob, Michelle Chaudhry and Advocate Kalpana Devi – office-bearers of minority right groups.
“The move is a blatant aberration from the orders No. 4 of para 37 of Supreme Court passed on 19 June 2014 (SC SMC 1/2014) by a bench headed by the then Chief Justice Tassauq Hussain Jillani. It stated that a national council for minorities rights be constituted. The function of the said council should inter alia be to monitor the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the constitution and law. The council should also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights by the provincial and federal government.”
PCMR chairman Peter Jacob said the orders of the apex court could not be complied with unless an empowered, independent and statutory body was established that had powers to hold inquiries and provide remedies to human rights violations. “Therefore, it will not be acceptable to us.”
“According to the UN guidelines for human rights institutions (Paris Principles), anyone holding a political office cannot be part of this Commission. These Commissions should reflect a political consensus between government and opposition as provided for the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission Act No. XVI of 2012,” he added. Various governments in the past 30 years had set up such ad-hoc minority commissions through administrative powers, which failed to translate into protection of human rights for minorities, he said. “Setting up yet another body without powers and resources will defeat the purpose, therefore, we reject this tokenism,” Jacob said.
“An institution meant the establish respect for rights, must have a strong legal basis. Otherwise, it will merely postpone resolve to the long-standing issues of institutional and structural inequality and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief,” the joint statement said.
It said the National Commission for Human Rights, the National Commission on Status of Women, and the Commission of the Rights of the Child had been established under proper legislation.
“We appeal to the prime minister and members of the federal cabinet to review this decision in the interest of the country and establishing respect for human rights,” it said.
Kheal Das Kohistani, an MNA from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said the religious affairs ministry should bring the issue of the formation of the NCM into the parliament for discussion.
“The PML-N believes in the parliament’s supremacy and that’s why it opposes the setting up of the commission for not taking the parliament into confidence,” Kohistani told The News.
Citing the example of the joint parliamentary committee formed for legislation against forced conversion of a member, Kohistani said the NCM should be established only after proper legislation.
According to the government notification issued to announce the members of the national minorities body, the religious ministry has proposed Chela Ram Kewlani from the Hindu community to be the commission’s chairman.
Official members will be representatives of the ministries of the interior, law, human rights and federal education & professional training, the Council of Islamic Ideology chairman and the Ministry of Religious Affairs secretary.
As for unofficial members, Hindus will be represented by Jaipal Chhabria, Vishno Raja Qavi and Kewlani; Christians by Dr Sarah Safdar, Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw and Albert David; Sikhs by Dr Mimpal Singh and Saroop Singh; Parsis by Roshan Khursheed Bharucha; the Kalash by Dawood Shah and Muslims by Maulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad and Mufti Gulzar Ahmed Naeemi.
Although members of Christian and other faiths are selected on a non-political basis, the three members from the Hindu community are PTI leaders, sources familiar with the affairs told The News. Kewlani, whose name was proposed for the NCM’s chairmanship, has remained PTI’s vice-president in Sindh and is considered a close aide to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, The News has learnt.
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