The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights on Thursday directed the Human Rights Wing (HR Wing) of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights to enhance its outreach to public instead of overly focusing on reporting of international treaties and arranging events.
The committee members advised the HR Wing to focus more on the basic objective of protecting human rights of the general public. “If the general public remains deprived then there is no use of writing good reports or arranging impressive events,” said Chairman Standing Committee Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi while commenting after the briefing of HR wing and its attached departments on their mandate, role and performance. The meeting was attended by only two more committee members out of total 15 members. Those present in the meeting included Senator Saleem Zia and Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq.
They pointed out huge communication gap between the general public and the HR Wing and suggested immediate measures to improve the situation so that the benefit can reach grassroots level. The Standing Committee criticized the HR wing on not utilizing the Women Distress and Relief Fund for past 19 years.
Senator Saleem Zia raised the point that the fund was established in 1996 and not a single woman in distress has benefitted from the fund yet which currently contains an amount of around Rs46 million. Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq pointed out that HR Wing lacks comprehensive and authentic data on human rights abuses and said that the Parliamentarians can suggest more funding for human rights only on the basis of genuine data.
National Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz recommended strengthening of Gender Crime Cell in the National Police Bureau for the collection of data on violence against women cases. The HR Wing representatives shared in detail the activities conducted under the wing with regard to legislation on human rights issues especially children. They also highlighted the international engagement of HR Wing, coordination with provinces for reporting on international conventions, the helpline services, women centre, referral mechanism and trainings conducted the Wing.
It was shared that the wing has identified and referred 20,665 cases of human rights violations to the concerned departments in past three years and they have received response on only 38 per cent of the cases.
The HR Wing representatives said they have recently changed the number of legal advice help line in the ministry which is 1099 now. The helpline established in February this year has received only 124 calls yet. They shared that Women Crisis Centre in Islamabad has provided services to 40,116 persons. They explained that the fund remained dysfunctional because of the changing status of the HR wing which was converted to ministry from a division and then was changed to a wing by the present government.
They said that every time, an amendment was required in the piece of legislation. Currently the summery for required amendment is waiting for the approval from Cabinet. In his presentation, Chairperson National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) Nawaz Chowhan demanded the government to provide resources to the Commission. He shared that the Commission has no staff to start its mandated functions. Talking about losing seat in United Nations Human Rights Council, he said the NCHR was never taken into confidence for elections. He said it shows that the United Nations was not satisfied with the reports submitting by Pakistan as a requirement of international conventions ratified by the government.
“We need to keep this in mind that internationally, only human rights commissions are recognized not the wings,” he said while requesting the government to strengthen the Commission for strong democracy in the country and better image in the world.