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Pakistan: Sindh Provincial Assembly Passes Law to Establish Commission for Protection of Minority Rights

(Dec. 19, 2016) In what Assembly-member Nand Kumar Goklani called “a victory for the entire province,” Pakistan’s Sindh Province Assembly has unanimously adopted a private bill to establish a commission to protect the rights of religious minorities.  (Sindhi Assembly Stamps Commission for Minorities, NATION (Nov. 18, 2016).)  The Sindh Minorities Rights Commission Bill, 2015, was passed on November 17, 2016, on the recommendation of a report of the Assembly’s Standing Commission on Minority Affairs.  (A Bill for the Establishment of Sindh Minorities Rights Commission, 2015 (Minority Rights Commission Bill), Open Parliament website; Azeem Samar, Sindh Passes Bill to Establish Minorities’ Rights Commission, NEWS INTERNATIONAL (Nov. 18, 2016).)

The new law aimed to provide a platform to examine the grievances of minority communities, suggest mechanisms for accelerating the pace of their socioeconomic development, and promote and protect their identities at the provincial level.  (Minority Rights Commission Bill, preamble.)  Kumar, a member of Pakistan’s Hindu minority, stated that the law would also “reiterate the values of religious harmony, tolerance, respect and peace, which were inherent in the creation of Pakistan.”  (Time for Inclusion: Law Passed to Establish Sindh Minorities Rights Commission, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Nov. 18, 2016).)

The Minority Rights Commission Bill defines 17 specific functions to be discharged by the Commission, including

  • the examination of government policy and programs related to a variety of issues faced by minorities;
  • review of laws and regulations affecting the status and rights of minorities, suggesting the repeal or amendment of existing laws or adoption of new laws to eliminate discrimination and promote minority welfare;
  • undertaking of research and programs to raise the status, literacy, social interaction, and political participation of minorities in Sindh, and eliminate hate material and hate speech;
  • investigation of specific complaints of minority rights violations; and
  • monitoring of procedures for redressing violations of minority rights. (Minority Rights Commission Act § 11.)

The Commission’s chairperson and six of eleven government-nominated members are to come from various ethnic and religious minorities.  Women must comprise at least 33% of the membership of the Commission, and one youth representative, one lawyer, and two civil society activists are to be included as well.  (Id. § 3(2)(a), (b).)

The Commission, when investigating complaints filed in conformity with the new law, has the powers of a civil court trying a suit under civil procedure to summon and enforce the attendance of witnesses and examine them under oath.  (Id. § 12(1).)  When the Commission’s inquiry discloses human rights violations against minorities, the Commission may recommend to the provincial government or other authorities that the violators be prosecuted.  (Id. § 14(1)(a).)  The law stipulates that, for the speedy trial of such offenses, “the Sindh government may in consultation with the Chief Justice of Sindh High Court, by notification in the official gazette, specify a court of sessions to be the Human Rights Court for the district to try such offences.”  (Id. § 16.)  The Commission may also recommend that the Sindh government or another authority grant immediate interim relief to the victim or his/her family and provide the complainant or his/her legal representative with a copy of the inquiry report.  (Id. § 14(1)(b), (c).)

The law grew out of a landmark judgment of the Pakistan Supreme Court issued on June 19, 2014, after an attack on a church in Peshawar.  The ruling, authored by then Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, called for the government to constitute a national council for minority rights, stating that the council’s function should be “to monitor the practical realization of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law.  The Council should also be mandated to frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights by the Provincial and Federal Government.”  (Suo Moto Actions Regarding Suicide Bomb Attack of 22.9.2013 on the Church in Peshawar and Regarding Threats Being Given to Kalash Tribe and Ismailies in Chitral, (2014) SMC No. 1/2014 etc. § 37(iv), Supreme Court of Pakistan website.)

The language of the new Sindh law is nearly the same as that of a federal bill to be introduced by National Assembly-member Sanjey Perwani.  (A Bill to Provide for the Establishment of Pakistan Minorities Rights Commission, National Assembly of Pakistan website (last visited Dec. 19, 2016); Irfan Ghauri, Two More Bills to Protect Minorities’ Rights on Cards, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Aug. 29, 2016).)