Enabling rights protection

Constant vigilance, robust advocacy and judicial oversight are needed to safeguard minorities’ rights

Enabling rights protection


he One-Man Commission consisting of Dr Shoaib Suddle has submitted its 14th report on the status of implementation of the 2014 Supreme Court judgment on protection of rights of religious minorities. In this report, the commission has requested the court to prioritise concluding the hearings regarding directions that pertain to the development of school curricula promoting tolerance; the prevention of hate speech on social media; and the establishment of a statutory national council for minorities’ rights. Additionally, the commission has requested the apex court to consider issuing remedial orders to public officials who do not pay due attention to directions issued by the commission.

The landmark Supreme Court judgment of 2014 has become a celebrated document on the protection of minorities’ rights, that stands next to the Lahore Resolution of 1940 and Quaid-i-Azam’s historic address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947. The judgment, delivered by then chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, also stands out as a binding document obligating the government to ensure compliance.

Five years after the Supreme Court’s judgment, the apex court had constituted a One-Man Commission comprising Dr Shoaib Suddle, with a mandate to assess and report the implementation of the court orders. The commission engaged with relevant authorities and made efforts to retrieve properties spanning over an area of over 6,096 acres under the Evacuee Trust Property Board, valued at over Rs 40 billion, from the illegal possession, and recovered Rs 1 billion in rent arrears from defaulters. The commission has persuaded the provincial governments to fill 17,924 posts out of the 49,457 sanctioned under the five per cent job quota for minorities in the public sector.

31,533 vacancies remain unfilled.

The commission resolved 278 out of 548 complaints it received regarding various issues including rehabilitation of temples; land allocation for graveyards; provision of religious teachers in jails; and discrimination in appointments. Additionally, it drafted a bill to establish the National Council for Minorities Rights. However, the government did not adopt/ sponsor the draft for legislation.

It is important to keep in mind that the commission was constituted on account of sheer need the Implementation Bench of the Supreme Court felt to assess and boost compliance in assisting the bench. It is no substitute for a permanent commission. It may not be needed if reasonable compliance is achieved.

The commission has helped remove estrangement between the entitled communities and citizens and the government offices (bearers of duty). By taking up complaints of violation of the rights of minorities, Dr Shoaib Suddle and his team have encouraged the religious minorities to take up issues at the institutional level. The commission has travelled far and wide across the country to probe the issues and build bridges.

In its second periodic report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee monitoring the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the government of Pakistan claimed that the judgment was being implemented in letter and spirit and that the federal and provincial governments were taking the steps necessary for protection of minorities. The report asserted that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had prepared a National Interfaith Harmony Policy aimed at fostering peace, harmony, tolerance and religious pluralism among various segments of the society and promoting the acceptance of diversity across the country, contributing to religious pluralism, prosperity and an inclusive society.

Regrettably, some of these claims are far from the reality on the ground. The government has neither developed a strategy for religious tolerance nor developed an interfaith harmony policy. This discrepancy highlights a significant gap between the government’s assertions in international for a and the actual progress on the implementation of the judgment in the country.

Following the desecration of over two dozen churches in Jaranwala, the government of the Punjab established special Messaq Centres at police stations to facilitate complaints of minority communities. However, their effectiveness has been questioned because some of the people involved mob violence and hate speech against the minority religions have enjoyed impunity. Similarly, the minority facilitation centres in Sindh have failed to curtail the number of abductions and forced conversion of female children from the minority communities.

None of the original seven orders of the Supreme Court have been fully implemented. The lack of progress underscores the need for constant vigilance, robust advocacy and judicial oversight to safeguard minorities’ rights as promised in the constitution and the judgment.

Government institutions and civil society stakeholders should extend their full cooperation to the commission in dispensing its responsibility according to the directives of the apex court. The federal and provincial governments should take effective measures for compliance with the judgment and the protection of minorities’ rights.

The writer, a human rights advocate, is a deputy director at the Centre for Social Justice. He tweets at @maliksuneel and can be reached at sun4hr@gmail.com

Enabling rights protection