‘National Commission for Human Rights’: Bill passed to create independent rights body

ISLAMABAD: In the backdrop of a report terming 2010 the ‘worst year’ in terms of human rights excesses, the National Assembly on Thursday passed a bill aimed at establishing an independent human rights commission. The commission will be empowered to assume the role of a court in special circumstances with authority to take suo motu notice.

The independent body is to be headed by a retired judge from the higher judiciary or any other “eminent person of known integrity, competence and experience”. It was also decided that two members must be from minority communities.

The move came days after an annual report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said 2010 was the worse year for Pakistan in preserving human rights, with forced disappearances at an alarming level and minorities being targeted by extremists.

Besides a chairperson and two people from the minority community, the commission will also have one member each from all four provinces, tribal areas, Gilgit-Baltistan and Islamabad. A senior bureaucrat will also be a member, taking the total strength to 11.

The National Commission for Human Rights, as the bill called the proposed body, is being established in pursuance of a 1993 resolution of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

Though the state will be taking care of the financial and logistical needs of the commission, its outlook is likely to be of an independent body that has powers to summon any authority from the government machinery.

The commission will be empowered to intervene in any proceedings involving allegations of violation of human rights and visit jails anywhere Pakistan.

The body, according to the draft of the bill, will have powers of a civil court while inquiring into complaints under this act. The commission has been given the power to constitute special investigation teams of officers from police and other law enforcing agencies.

The house also passed two other bills before starting an inconclusive debate on the rise of prices of daily use items. Members from opposition parties attacked the government’s economic policies and called for reforms to control inflation.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2011.


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