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

April 13 a day of ignominious capitulation: HRCP

Press Release, April 14

 

Lahore: The way the National Assembly resolved to back the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation for Malakand Division on Monday does no credit to the House, and the day will be remembered for the state’s humiliating submission to blind force, a statement by HRCP said on Tuesday.

 

The Commission said, “The reservations of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation for the Malakand Division apart, the manner the resolution relating to the subject was adopted in the National Assembly cannot bring any credit to the House.

 

Making all allowances for the circumstances, in which a desperate government was seeking survival through surrender to militancy, no one except a lone member of the PML-N, noted journalist Ayaz Amir, had the courage to speak honestly and directly about the situation, while members of the MQM at least maintained consistency in resisting bigotry. What is amazing is that no reference was made to the impact of the measure on women, children, minorities and the prospects for rule of law in the embattled Malakand Division. Even if the party chief whip had ruled out the possibility of criticising the measure, expressing concern over the threat to fundamental rights should not have been an utterly hazardous undertaking. What use is increased representation of women in parliament if they cannot squeak even in matters of life and death to them? Whatever may happen to the repeatedly abandoned people of Pakistan, 13th of April 2009 will only be remembered as a day of ignominious capitulation to brute force.”

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP sees risk to basic rights and constitution

Press Release, February 18

Lahore: Commenting on the Peshawar announcement of February 17, regarding the enforcement of the Shariah law in the Malakand Division, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed serious concern at the absence of any guarantees against transgression of the constitution and the people’s basic rights. “Both of these – the basic law and the fundamental rights – have apparently been exposed to a grave risk”, the commission has said in the following statement issued here today.

Even after making due allowance for the need for peace and appreciating the problems faced by the Frontier government and the security forces, it is not possible to overlook the threat the Peshawar accord on the enforcement of Shariah in the Malakand Division poses to the constitution and the people’s fundamental rights. HRCP is convinced that the country’s basic law and the rights of the people both have been placed at a grave risk. The plan to enforce what is described as Shariah without any assurance that all the local judges charged with enforcing it will be equal to the task or capable of arriving at a single interpretation of the scriptures could condemn the people, especially women, non-Muslims and smaller Muslim sects, to irremediable excesses.

Since the Malakand Division consists of five districts besides Swat, the population involved is by no means small and there is no guarantee that other territories in the Frontier province and beyond its boundaries will not be affected.

HRCP acknowledges the principle and value of a dialogue but it is essential to be sure of the other party’s bona fides, credibility and capacity to honour its commitments. No dialogue is possible with a party that seeks to impose its fiat at gunpoint.

The ordinary citizens’ desire for speedy and inexpensive justice is understandable but it is the state’s duty to save them from falling for a regime that may save them some time and a few pennies but all this at the cost of justice, particularly in an area where feudal / tribal norms are often equated with divine injunctions.

HRCP shares the grief and anxieties of the people of Swat and other parts of the Malakand division over their losses in life and property and the hardships caused to poor wage-earners and students. It should like to hope that under the proposed arrangement they will not be made to suffer more than what they have already undergone. The nation must find ways of demonstrating better solidarity with them than has so far been evident.

Without doubting at the moment the motives of the Frontier government it seems necessary to point out the huge responsibility to protect democracy, the constitution and fundamental rights it has assumed and that its success or failure will determine the future of not only its own province but the whole of Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district.

February 1-2, 2009

 

Background

 

On January 29, 2009, the print and electronic media reported that a case for blasphemy had been registered against five persons of the Ahmadiyya community under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) in Kot Sultan police station of Layyah district. A complaint lodged with the police accused five Ahmadis of writing the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the walls of the mosque’s toilet in village 172/TDA. The accused named in the First Information Report (FIR) included minor males and matriculation students. All accused subsequently voluntarily appeared before the police and were arrested. The accused denied the allegations vehemently.

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sent a fact-finding mission to Layyah on February 1-2, 2009 to verify the facts. The mission included Mr. Mehboob Ahmad Khan (HRCP legal officer), Mr. Nadeem Anthony (HRCP Council member), Mr. Irfan Barkat (human rights activist), Mr. Munawar Ali Shahid (journalist/HRCP member), Mr. Waqar Gillani (journalist), Mr. Abdul Manan (journalist), Mr. Asif Yaqoob (activist) and Mr. Fareedullah (journalist). During its visit to Layyah, the HRCP team met villagers, members of the Ahmadiyya community and the local administration.

 

The complete fact-finding report can be read here.

Ahmadis held without any evidence of blasphemy: HRCP

Press Release, February 12, 2009

 

LAHORE: Five Ahmadis detained on charges of blasphemy in Layyah district have been held without virtually any proof or witnesses, the Human Rights Commission (HRCP) said on Thursday.

 

The commission, which had sent a fact-finding team to Layyah district last week, said its findings concluded that an investigation, mandated by law prior to the registration of a blasphemy case, was also not held.

 

The HRCP team learned that a prayer leader in the village had allowed Ahmadi students from a nearby tuition centre to offer prayers in his mosque. The students were later threatened by a government schoolteacher and never went to the mosque again. Around 10 days later, some villagers claimed finding blasphemous writings in the mosque’s toilet.

 

In the First Information Report (FIR), the complainant said: “Since these Ahmadis are the only non-Muslims coming to the mosque, therefore they must have committed the offence.” The ‘argument’ was heard time and again during the HRCP team’s interviews with the mosque administration, some villagers and the local police.

 

The police and villagers conceded that there were no witnesses or evidence of the Ahmadis’ involvement. The HRCP team found elements belonging to banned extremist organizations and a relative of the National Assembly member from the area had pressurised the police to register a case. “It is clear that a local politician has also used his influence” to book the Ahmadis, the commission’s report said.

 

HRCP said the complainant and his extremist supporters are adamant that the Ahmadis should be punished on the basis of presumption.

 

HRCP has demanded a prompt and transparent investigation into the matter to ensure that innocent people are not victimised. It has also demanded the government must ensure that the Ahmadiyya community in the village is not harassed or ostracized. The Commission has also asked the government to take prompt measures to rule out misuse of the blasphemy law.

 

The detailed fact-finding report can be accessed at the HRCP website: www.hrcp-web.org 

FACT-FINDING REPORT: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson