Update from Wilder Tayler on the situation of Commissioner Muhannad Al-Hasani

Dear ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members,

I am writing to follow-up on my letter of 21 August 2009 concerning the arrest and detention of our Syrian ioner Muhannad Al-Hasani. As he awaits likely prosecution before the State Security Court, Muhannad Al-Hasani is now facing a disciplinary “trial” before the Syrian Bar Association on the same charges pending against him before the State Security Court.  The Syrian Bar Association is not independent and is under the control of the Baa’ts ruling party.  Under the 1981 Syrian Bar association law, Al-Hasani might be suspended from practicing law for an unlimited or indefinite period.  The Bar Association allowed him to be represented by a lawyer during this proceeding, and according to information provided by his lawyer, Al-Hasani is remains at risk of ill-treatment in Adra prison, Damascus.

I had a meeting with the Syrian ambassador last Friday. It was an opportunity for me to express the ICJ¹s deep concern about the arrest of Al-Hasani and to impress upon the the Syrian Government that his arrest constitutes a serious attack against the Syrian legal profession and the Rule of Law in Syria.

However, I am concerned that it is quite possible that the Syrian authorities will go ahead with the trial of Al-Hasani before the State Security Court. If this were to occur, we will monitor the trial. Meanwhile, we are seeking to send an urgent mission to Syria in solidarity with Al-Hasani and to see if we can make progress with the relevant officials in Damascus.

The Mission will try to meet with representatives of the Syrian Government, the Bar Association and the State Security Court, and will seek Al-Hasani¹s release and the dropping of the charges, and the restoration of his capacity to practice his profession, including as a human rights defender.  The Mission will also try to have access to Al-Hasani in Adra prison.

I will let you know as soon as there is any further development with this situation. Many thanks to those of you who have already taken actions in defense of, and solidarity with, our colleague Muhannad Al-Hasani.

Best regards,

Wilder Tayler

Acting Secretary General

International Commission of Jurists

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

HRCP Condoles Death of Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed

Council Members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan express their deep sadness at the passing away of Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed on 18 April. He was a founder member of HRCP and its first Vice Chairperson for Sindh. As a Council Member, Mr. Ahmed remained deeply committed to HRCP and contributed greatly to the causes and issues addressed by the Commission. He resigned from HRCP after being appointed as a judge of the Sindh High Court in 1997. Justice Sabihuddin was elevated to the position of Chief Justice of Sindh and was recently made a judge of the Supreme Court. He was among the judges who refused to take oath under the PCO in 2007.

 

Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed gave several judgments strengthening the principles of human rights and bringing relief to the aggrieved. In a landmark judgment in 1997, for the first time in Pakistan’s judicial history, he ordered the payment of monetary compensation to a detenu in a habeas corpus petition. In January 2009, he ordered the release of haris who were in detention. As a noted lawyer, he was always available to advise various NGOs working for the promotion of fundamental rights of citizens.

 

In his death, the country has lost a compassionate human being and a firm believer in the principles of justice and rule of law. 

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

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

Stop this madness, says HRCP

Press Release, March 13

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has strongly condemned the use of force on peaceful lawyers and political workers, specially the violence that resulted in serious injury to Ms. Musarrat Hilali, and has called upon the authorities to stop their mad operations. Ina statement today, HRCP said:

The words of sane counsel, offered from both domestic and international, quarters has had no effect on the government’s power-crazy establishment. Not only lawyers and their supporters are being denied their right to freedom of movement, those joining peaceful processions are being subjected to violence. Neither women nor senior citizens are being spared. HRCP strongly condemns the use of brute force on Ms Musarrat Hilali, not only because she is HRCP vice-chairperson for Frontier province but also because she is a widely respected advocate and has done a lot for the have-nots in Peshawar and across the country. The police had no right to break into her house and intimidate and abuse her family members. In the climate of terror created by the so-called law-enforcing personnel Ms Hilali got her leg fractured. The administration cannot absolve itself of this barbaric act. Similar reports of house gates being pulled down at night in a bid to arrest MPAs, and other political workers have been received from many towns in Punjab and Sindh. This madness must stop and civilized ways found to defuse the situation that is threatening Pakistan’s most vital interests. All those taken into custody must be released forthwith and the police firmly warned against violating the peaceful citizens’ basic rights.
Iqbal Haider
Co-chairperson