KARACHI: Representatives of leading civil society organisations expressed their serious concern over the Sindh Cabinet’s 2018 decision to give the Sindh Human Rights Commission under the administrative control of the Sindh Human Rights Department (SHRD), changing the commission’s status from an independent institution to a subordinate organisation.
In a joint statement issued here on Wednesday, the civil society and human rights organisations including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Aurat Foundation (AF), Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) and others said that the SHRC cannot exercise its independent powers over public officers to stop violations of human rights as envisaged under section 4 of the Sindh Protection of Human Rights Act 2011 while working under a provincial government department.
The said Act was enacted in compliance with Pakistan’s various undertaking to International Treaties, Covenants and other instruments.
Although this Act was enacted in the year 2011, a watchdog of human rights is a thorny issue for the establishments and those in the corridors of power in Pakistan. It took two years to create its body i.e. the commission, which was launched in May 2013. However, since its inception, the commission is facing inadequate funding and lack of cooperation from the government.
“The civil society’s statement made it clear that the executive order by the provincial government cannot override the legal status of the commission. The cabinet decision should be withdrawn,” they demanded.
The statement has pointed out that after the devolution of powers and abolishment of the concurrent list through 18th amendment in the Constitution the human right is now a provincial subject.
The provincial government of Sindh has the constitutional duties under Article 142 of the Constitution of Pakistan to enact laws with respect to any matter not enumerated in Federal Legislative List in the Fourth Schedule as per the Article 70(4) of the Constitution.
The civil society opined that establishment of SHRC was not the only fulfilment of the Constitutional obligations of the provincial government towards the protection of fundamental rights of the citizens, but this was also in line with the international commitments Pakistan has made regarding strengthening human rights enshrined in the key treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Universal Declaration on Human Rights, United Nations Paris Principles and United Nations General Assembly Resolution 70/163, of which paragraphs 20 and 22 specifically speak about financial and administrative independence of the Commissions on Human Rights.
Since its establishment two years ago, the provincial commission has taken important steps towards the protection and promotion of human rights in the province and established close liaison with civil society organisations.
But the Commission is facing an acute financial crisis due to withholding of the budget by the provincial government for the financial year 2018-2019.
In this regard, letters and reminders were sent by the Commission to the provincial government but to no avail. In reply to the said letter and reminders, the Commission received a shocking reply stating that the government of Sindh has amended Schedule I of the Sindh Government Rules of Business, 1986, and the HRC has been placed under the administrative control of Human Right Department.