HRCP consultation urges persisting with local govt system

Press Release, 2 September 2009

Lahore: There was a strong consensus among the participants of a consultation organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that local government system should not be wound up or made a mere administrative appendage of the provincial government set-up and the present system should be continued with necessary amendments to increase transparency, accountability and service delivery.

According to a press statement issued by HRCP on Wednesday, the participants of the consultation said some changes in the present order might be considered but the local government system must be retained because it gives representation and a share in public affairs to the common citizen at the grassroots.

They said any reform that reduced the financial and administrative authority of the local government institutions would effect service delivery at the grassroots and go against the very rationale of decentralization of power. “Deficiencies in any one area must not be cited as a justification for wrapping up a system crucial for the devolution of democratic governance to the lowest tier,” the consultation concluded.

The centrality of commitment to the principle of devolution of power and decentralization to any reform was highlighted and concern raised that the changes were being considered without any effort to solicit or consider public opinion. It was argued that any attempt at reform must be based on sound reasoning and widest possible consultation.

Retaining representation for women, minorities, and working classes was emphasised. There were also demands for increasing their representation.

The participants opposed any delay in holding local government elections. They argued that the provincial governments that advocated increased autonomy for themselves must follow the same principle when it came to devolving powers to the local government.

Those taking part in the consultation included academia, political activists and members of local bodies.

I. A. Rehman
Secretary-General

Strong parliament essential for democracy

Press Release, 27 July 2009

Islamabad: The parliament must be made strong and popular with the people if continuation of the democratic system is to be guaranteed. This was the consensus at a consultation with parliamentarians, leaders of political parties and civil society activists from Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP) organized here the other day by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The participants were unanimous in holding the military’s, especially the intelligence agencies’, interference in political matters as the biggest obstacle to parliament’s supremacy and stability of the democratic system.

There was complete unanimity among the participants on restoration of the 1973 constitution except for certain amendments (voting age, women’s seats, etc)

The participants were also unanimous in calling for due accountability of political leaders and stricter checks on floor-crossing. A call for reducing election expenses and for political parties to award election tickets on merit was also supported.

They agreed that parliament will become strong and play its leading role in promoting democracy if it paid due attention to people’s concerns and gave their interest preference to all other matters.

There was some difference of opinion on the suggestion that religious forces had put unwarranted restrictions on the parliament’s supremacy and therefore the ideal of a secular democracy had to be reaffirmed. One political party was seriously opposed to this formulation.

The main recommendations made by the meeting included:

•    The federal and provincial legislatures should be the only law-making bodies. No other entity/forum should have the power to make laws. The central parliament should avoid encroaching on provinces’ legislative functions.

•    The constitution should be amended to bar any fresh taxation without the parliament’s approval. Parliament should also oversee subordinate legislation, such as rules made under enactments. Non-legislative acts, such as SROs and notifications enjoying the power of law, should always be put on legislatures’ tables.

•    A parliamentary commission should examine all ordinances that have been issued over the past many decades so that they can be validated or dropped under parliament’s authority. No law that has not been made by a competent legislature should be allowed to remain on the statute book for more than four months.

•    No government policy should be adopted without a thorough debate in parliament.

•    Parliament should have a say in the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner, service chiefs, and the judges.

•    The Rules of Business should be approved by the legislature concerned.

•    All international treaties signed by Pakistan as well as reports to the UN must be debated in parliament.

•    The standing committees should be set up within two weeks of the formation of the legislatures and they should meet regularly.

•    The parliament will gain in stature if Senate’s power are increased.

•    The proceedings of legislatures should be published within two weeks of events and in national languages. Each legislature must offer up-to-date information on its website. It should also issue an annual report on its activities.

•    All legislatures should provide space for the articulation of special groups’ (women, minorities) views.

•    The procedure regarding private members’ bills/resolutions should be revised so as to increase their contribution to legislative work.

•    The question hour should be used to provide as much information on the state’s and government’s affairs as possible.

The meeting also called upon the political parties to train their workers in parliamentary proceedings, hold discussion on legislative proposals at the various levels of organisation, exercise their powers of overseeing the work of their government/parliamentary parties and sensitise their following to the demands of participatory democracy.

Prominent among those who attended the Islamabad roundtable were parliamentarians Afrasiab Khatak (ANP), Begum Tehmina Daultana (PML-N), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (PML-N), MNAs Jamila Gillani and Bushra Gohar, former MNAs Latif Afridi, and M. Aslam (Jamat Islami), Punjab Tehrik Insaf leader Asif Khan. Advocates Sher Mohammad (Swat) and Kamran Arif (Peshawar), Mr Amirul Azeem (JI), media and civil society representatives from Punjab, Pakhtunkhwa, tribal areas and Islamabad.

I. A. Rehman
Secretary-General

Judges’ restoration a good first step: HRCP

Press Release, March 16, 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has welcomed the restoration of judiciary as a first step towards strengthening democracy and rule of law and said the people of Pakistan have sent a clear message that they will not settle for a sham democratic process.

A statement issued by the Commission on Monday said: “The HRCP welcomes the restoration of superior court judges and congratulates lawyers, the civil society, political parties – including the Pakistan People’s Party – and above all the people of Pakistan, who again demonstrated their ability for a worthy cause whenever they found one. We wish Monday morning’s decision had been taken earlier. Still the announcement revealed the difference of approach between a military regime and a civilian democracy. This is a clear message from the people to leaders of all political parties that they will not settle for a sham democracy.

However, this is merely the first step. Real challenges now begin and the people expect that they will get not only an independent judiciary but also justice. This will not come about automatically but will require some doing. The people also expect that the restoration of judges will ensure the rule of law and independence of judiciary and also that the parliament will make earnest efforts to save the judiciary from the harmful effects of politicization.

The HRCP has all along been concerned about the lack of independence of the Election Commission and of a satisfactory mechanism for the appointment, tenure and terms of service of members of the superior judiciary. An independent Election Commission is crucial for the democratic system to go forward in a smooth and non-contentious manner. Similarly, mechanisms for appointments and accountability of judges must enjoy the confidence of the legal fraternity and the people. The people expect speedy progress on federation-making, guarantees of provincial autonomy and priority to economic concerns of the people, specially their need for relief from unemployment and poverty. In addition, just as people from all schools of thought had come together for the cause of the judiciary and democracy, the people expect all political parties to get together to promote democratic governance and improve the level of social justice in the country.”

Asma Jahangir Chairperson

HRW- Pakistan: Free Detained Opposition Activists

For Immediate Release

 

Pakistan: Free Detained Opposition Activists

Curbs on Freedom of Assembly Should Be Revoked

 

(New York, March 11, 2009) – The government of Pakistan should end its crackdown against activists of opposition groups led by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Human Rights Watch said today.

 

Since March 10, 2009, authorities have detained at least 300 activists from the opposition party and affiliated groups from across Punjab province, the party’s stronghold. Scores of opposition politicians are in hiding, fearing arrest. The activists have been detained under various provisions of the Maintenance of Public Order Act or simply detained without charge.

 

“It’s a disgrace for elected officials to mimic the discredited military government by using old and repressive laws to stifle political expression,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The protesters who were arrested should be freed right away and allowed to demonstrate peacefully without fear of violence or arrest.”

 

Supporters of the party, headed by the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, are being arrested to prevent them from converging on the capital, Islamabad, for a “sit-in” in support of the restoration to office of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the Supreme Court chief justice who was illegally fired in November 2007 by Pervez Musharraf, then the country’s military ruler.

 

The Punjab and Sindh provincial governments have imposed a discredited colonial-era legal provision, section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which bans gatherings of four or more people, to prevent the protest march to Islamabad. The Punjab police, acting on orders from the provincial government, have set up police checkpoints and roadblocks across the province.

 

Pakistan has been gripped by a political crisis since February 25, 2009, when the country’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling that banned Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections because of a previous criminal conviction. The court also disqualified Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, from continuing as the chief minister of Punjab province.

 

Nawaz Sharif declared “rebellion” against the government and vowed to force a resolution of political disputes “on the streets” at a rally in the city of Lahore on March 5. Along with lawyers seeking the reinstatement of Chaudhry, Sharif announced a protest march to Islamabad, scheduled to arrive in the city on March 16 and culminating in an indefinite sit-in until Chaudhry is restored to office.

 

Human Rights Watch said that by placing curbs on the rights to peaceful assembly and association, Pakistan’s government was making use of the same authoritarian tools it had decried when in opposition.

 

“Pakistan’s transition to democracy is imperiled by the government reacting to a political dispute with unnecessary force,” said Hasan. “Regardless of political differences, rights-respecting leaders don’t lock up people for trying to participate in their country’s political process.”

 

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Pakistan, please visit:

http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/pakistan

 

For more information, please contact:

In Lahore, Ali Dayan Hasan (English, Urdu): +92-300-842-5125 (mobile)

In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-79-0872-8333 (mobile)

In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)

Verdict vindicates demand for independent judiciary: HRCP

Press Release, February 25, 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday regretted the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualifying Mian Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif by a short order.

A statement by HRCP said: “This apparent politicisation of the rule of law has further devalued the respect of the superior judiciary of the country. The people of Pakistan are sharp enough to distinguish between judgments based on justice and those delivered for ulterior political motives. The writing was on the wall. Pakistan is going through a critical period and further destabilisation of Punjab can only add to the country’s woes.

Political parties including the PPP have suffered at the hands of judicial pronouncements that selectively victimise political parties and their leaders. The judicial assassination of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the hounding of late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as well as leaders of the ANP and the PML-N are now established historical facts. These errors continue at huge costs to the country.

HRCP hopes that political parties will remain united in giving precedence to the mandate of the people over dubious judicial pronouncements. This motivated judicial interference has vindicated the demand of the lawyers’ movement for an independent judiciary. It is now quite apparent that the democratic process will not move forward unless the nexus between the judiciary and the executive is not severed.

HRCP warns that the country needs political reconciliation rather than polarization that will leave a vacuum for adventurism. National and international players concerned with political progress in Pakistan must take note of this disturbing development. Woefully, Pakistan’s rulers misinterpret the US support for them as license to play havoc with their opponents and democratic norms.”

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson