Universal Declaration of Human Rights Day

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Justice (r) Ali Nawaz Chowhan

Human Rights Day is annually celebrated on 10th December every year. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, as the main United Nations official and his office plays a major role in coordinating efforts for the yearly observation of Human Rights. Every year a theme is given the latest being “Stand up for the Human Rights”.

In its proclamation on 10th December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), The General Assembly enunciated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

We are celebrating this day for the second year without the National Commission for the Human Rights. A functional body which has been made dysfunctional. Perhaps with a design. And we now see manipulations for the inductions of new incumbent of choice.

On this day as we stand up for the Human Rights we have to think of those who are placed below the poverty line in Pakistan and elsewhere. COVID-19 has added to their miseries. One of the main purposes for the creation of Pakistan and reflected in the letters of Allama Iqbal to Quaid was to remove poverty among the Muslims. In this context we have as yet to decrease our population living below the poverty lineThe mother of all evils.

The main minorities’ communities in Pakistan complain of forced conversions in Punjab and Sindh. On the global gender gap index, Pakistan was ranked 151 out of 153 by the World Economic Forum. At least 2846 cases of child abuse were documented, this includes Gang Rapes. About 162 mine related deaths took place last year.

There is no evidence of progress in implementation of safety and health standards in the mine sector. The countries expenditure on health is still less than 1% of its GDP against the required standard of 6%. The journalists complain about curbs on freedom on opinion and expression besides, harassment.

There was an excessive and arbitrary use of Exact Control List. The Supreme Court of Pakistan was unhappy on the performance of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The senate of Pakistan has already moved a privilege motion against NAB. The Dawn editorial on NAB performance dated 1st December is a charge sheet against NAB. There is also spike in the Cyber Crime and Online Harassment across Pakistan. Prisons in Pakistan remain over crowded with occupancy rate of 134%. In Punjab about 187 prisoners on death row suffer from mental illness, seventeen people are convicted of Blasphemy. This includes Junaid Hafeez of Bahauddin Zakariya University. There are about 10,000 Pakistanis incarcerated in overseas Prisons.

The Supreme Court had observed that the “Jirgas” and “Panchayat” was in violation of the constitution, but these continue to function. The process of induction of Judges for the special courts also needs a review as we hear of allegation of misconduct against some. Once special judges are inducted they are out of sight of the High Court. The quality of the judgment of some of the special courts is questionable. I wonder why we can’t have a unique Court system in the interest of Justice.

There is decadence in respect of Criminal Justice. It has been reported that the Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in large no of judgments between 2010-2018. The Supreme Court is burdened with more and more cases because of defective investigations, poor judgments of the courts below including service tribunals. The whole process before the plenary courts takes years to conclude. This is impairing confidence in the judicial system as people are taking Law into their own hands. A report on pending cases in Punjab subordinate judiciary counts these at number 1,12,000, While in the Lahore High Court these were 1,65,000 cases. In case of Peshawar, over 1,97,000 cases were pending with the District Judiciary. 40,700 cases were pending before Peshawar High Court. In case of Baluchistan, over 4,800 cases were pending before the High Court and about 13,000 cases were pending before District Judiciary.

The Islamabad High Court had about 16,000 cases pending. In case of Sindh, There were 83,920 cases pending in the High Court and 1,78,000 cases pending before the District Judiciary. Justice delayed is Justice denied. Delayed justice is a denial of fundamental Human Rights guaranteed by the constitution and thus violation of basic Human Rights. Therefore there is a need for streamlining the system and case management. The Judicial Academies are best places for training of Judges in this context.

The UN Human Rights committee was not satisfied with the report on the covenant of Civil and Political Rights, specifically in the context of extra judicial killing, enforced disappearances and the use of the death penalty. I’m of the view that we put a moratorium on death penalty until we are able to streamline our criminal justice system. There has also been increase in women trafficking, over 600 women were trafficked as brides to a neighboring country.

The child protection laws are still to be implemented in areas of Domestic labor and Child Marriage. Violence against Transgender community continues unabated, same is the case with Ahmadiyya community as we hear of murders in KPK and Punjab. A large number of people were found HIV-Positive, about 80% were below the age of 15 Years. So there is no protection. According to the world Air Quality Report for 2019, Pakistan is ranked amongst the worlds most polluted countries. There is acute water shortage problems in Karachi. The cases of hate speech continue to rise.

The NGO’s also suffered the indiscriminate brunt. There is a need for improving our performance in the 28 Human Rights treaties. These are being implemented by the Treaty Cell headed by the Attorney General because of the inability and lack of capacity of the Ministry of Human Rights to handle treaty matters. It is hoped that the Human Rights violations now rampant will be systematically checked through advocacy, awareness and adjudication of now many hundred cases pending before the National Commission as it is dysfunctional. This is a pure judicial function. How can we protect fundamental rights and Human Rights without a robust and dynamic judicial system?

The Author is a former International Judge of the UN at The Hague, Chief Justice of the Gambia, First Chairman of National Commission for the Human Rights Pakistan, Judge of the superior judiciary, Co-Chair Person UNESCO, Professor of International Law etc.