Press Release, June 7, 2008
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has studied the proposed constitutional package floated by the Pakistan People’s Party. There is no doubt that the present Constitution, which contains several amendments, particularly those inserted through the brute force of dictators require wide ranging amendments so that the country can embark on a constitutional rule. At the same time, the package does not fulfill a number of requirements and is tailored to suit the interests of the current set-up, rather than to deepen democratic governance. HRCP wonders how the PPP proposes to secure support to their package as clearly they do not have the two-thirds required for Constitutional amendments. As such the few pressing issues, including of the restoration of the judges will painfully linger to the detriment of the country and the democratic transition.
There are a number of positive amendments. The change of name of NWFP to Pakhtoonkhwa, the demise of Article 58(2) B, reserved seats for minorities in the Senate and the restoration of the executive authority with the Prime Minister are steps in the right direction. HRCP also welcomes the amendments regarding the selection and appointment of judges to the superior courts and in restricting sitting judges from taking on other high official assignments. There is though a contradiction. Sitting judges cannot be appointed as a Chief Election Commissioner or to other non-judicial posts but can still be members of the Election Commission.
HRCP rejects the requirement of the Prime Minister of being a Muslim as added by the Package amendment to Article 91. It is disappointing that a party who prides on its democratic credentials should discriminate amongst citizens on the basis of religion. The package has also not touched upon Articles 62 and 63, that require members of the parliament to be “pious” and their qualification is based on vague and subjective criteria of the “goodness” or otherwise of an individual. Similarly, the restriction on the election of a person for more than two terms to be Prime Minister is kept intact.
The suo motu powers of the Federal Shariat Court to take up any law and strike it down, as being repugnant to Islam is being kept intact, while the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear matters of public importance with reference to the enforcement of Fundamental Rights is severely curtailed by the Package. Under it, the Supreme Court can only pass a declaratory order under its inherent powers and will be not be able to enforce its rulings providing relief to the victims. HRCP is mindful that judges must act and select cases of “public importance” with due care and through well-reasoned judgments, yet the Package amendment will be a serious blow to the enforcement of fundamental rights of vulnerable groups and individuals in Pakistan.
HRCP rejects the wording of “reappointment” of the pre 3rd November judges as recommended under Article 270 CC of the Package. It could also be misconstrued especially as the two consecutive terms of the Chief Justice appear to have been deliberately kept vague. As such the Package leaves an impression that the formula of minus-one and plus-one has been adopted, which has firmly been rejected by the lawyers community and civil society. It will lead to a worse judicial crisis that will have long-term repercussions.
The intention of the package appears to undermine the independence of the superior courts. The composition and powers of the Judicial Commission are arbitrary. The Commission has the potential of turning itself into a menacing watchdog rather than an impartial tribunal. By allowing, the Judicial Commission to make a code of conduct for the superior judiciary the authors of the Package have subjugated the Supreme and High Courts to a body of retired persons. The requirement of Commission members to be “non-politicized” is vague and absurd. Who decides what is “non-politicized” and how can any person of knowledge and standing be politically empty? HRCP is amazed that a political party should frown upon anyone who is “political” and prefers to hand their destiny in the hands of those who are bankrupt of political thought. Such train of thinking usually originates from military bases rather than from political parties.
HRCP hopes that the PPP will take on board the suggestions made to it by all political forces and make clear decisions on the Constitutional direction it wishes to pursue. Priorities must be set as several issues are at stake and must be resolved through the Parliament, but the Package must not keep all of them hostage to a collective decision in a single Package. The present draft of the Package is totally unconvincing, both in its intent and substance, in dealing with the political crisis left behind by Musharaf and his military predecessors.