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A fit case for Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council

On 3 November 2007, President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in Pakistan and suspended the Constitution and the rule of law. It launched a brutal crackdown on the judges, lawyers, political activists, human rights activists and the UN Special Rapporteurs from Pakistan.   

I. A fit case for UN Special Session:


The prevailing situation in Pakistan is a fit case for intervention by the UN Human Rights Council.


a. House arrest of judges


President Musharraf accused some of the members of the higher judiciary of “interference” into the functioning of the government that “weakened the writ of the government”. When a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry refused to endorse the emergency order and declared it as unconstitutional, President Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and handpicked a loyalist Justice Hameed Dogar, who is the fourth senior most judge, to replace Justice Chaudhry. The government also appointed new Chief Justices for the Sindh, Lahore and Balochistan High Courts.


Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and some other judges who refused to take an oath under the new Provisional Constitutional Order were placed under house arrest. Section 3(2) of the Provisional Constitutional Order provides that “No judgment, decree, writ, order or process whatsoever shall be made or issued by any court or tribunal against the President or the Prime Minister or any authority designated by the President.”


Hundreds of lawyers were arrested across the country. Among those arrested included several office bearers of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) including its President Aitzaz Ahsan, Vice-Presidents Saqi Sultan and Ghulam Nabi Bhati, Secretary Mohammad Amin Javad, Additional Secretary Abdul Rasheed Awan and Executive Members Rashid Awan and Jhanzaib Jadoon, and Karachi Bar Association president Iftikhar Javed Qazi.


Many judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts refused to take oath under the new Provisional Constitutional Order. In the Supreme Court only 4 out of 19 judges took fresh oath. The number of judges who took fresh oath in the High Courts is 8 out of 27 judges in Sindh High Court, 5 out of 5 judges in Balochistan High Court, 9 out of 13 judges in the Peshawar High Court, and 17 out of 31 judges in the Lahore High Court till date.


b. Arrest of human rights defenders


Even the UN Special Rapporteurs have not been spared. Ms Asma Jehangir, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief has been put under house-arrest since the evening of 3 November 2007.


Arrest warrant against Ms. Hina Jialni, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, who is presently in the United Kingdom, has been issued.


On 4 November 2007, 55 human rights activists including 31 men and 24 women of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) were arrested by the police from its head office in Lahore. They included Director of  HRCP Mr. I.A. Rehman, Secretary General Mr. Syed Iqbal Haider, Ms. Shahtaj Qazalbash, Mr. Mehboob Khan, Mr. Nadeem Anthony, Ms. Salima Hashmi, Ms. Rubina Saigol, Ms. Samina Rehman, Brig. Rao Abid Hameed, Faisal Akhtar, Waseem Majeed Malik, Irfan Barket, Dr. Naseem Ali, Dr. Khurram Iftikhar, Dr. Yousaf Yaseen, Irshad Choudhry, Imran Qureshi, Shams Mahmood, Zaffar ul Hassan, Khalid Mehmood, Bilal Hassan Minto, Muhammad Bashir, Ali Cheema, Shahid Hafeez, Syed Mozam Ali Shah, Mansoor Ali Shah, Shahzeb Masood, Javed Amin, Suleman Akram, Muhammad Bilal Sabir, Shahid Amin, Khawaja Amjad Hussain, Mahmood Ahmed, Rahim ul Haq, Ashtar Ausaf Ali, Alia Ali, Samia Ali, Azhra Irshad, Jona Anderyas, Ayra Anderyas, Zeba, Neelam Hussain, Gulnar, Sonobar, Sadaf Chughtai, Nasreen Shah, Shaista Parvaiz Malik, Iram Sharif, Amina Sharif, Tania Sabah ud Din, Tamkanat Karim, Lala Raukh, , Huma Shah, Nasreen Shah and Samia Ameen Khawaja. They were booked under Sections 146,147 and 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order. All of them have been sent to Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. On 6 November 2007, a Judicial Magistrate granted bail to all of them.


c. House arrest of political leaders


Hundreds of opposition political leaders and activists have been arrested or put under house arrest. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has claimed that over 1,200 of its leaders and activists have been arrested. Prominent among those detained included Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Acting President, Javed Hashmi and Awami National Party chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan.


Leader of the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf, Imran Khan along with eight supporters was also put under house arrest but he reportedly managed to escape from his house on 4 November 2007.

d. Gagging the independent media


The independent media has been another immediate victim of the emergency. Shortly after emergency rule was declared, all the private local and foreign news channels were taken off the air. Tough restrictions have been imposed on the media. Broadcasting or publication of statements that are perceived to be defamatory of General Musharraf, the military or the government and statements or pictures of Islamist militants have been banned.


II. America’s role for undermining independence of judiciary


The United States has its role for undermining the independence of judiciary. In the post-11th September period, General Musharaff has been given a free hand in the name of war against terror. Hundreds of Pakistani detainees have disappeared in the war against terror. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 242 persons including 110 from Balochistan had been still missing as of 10 December 2006. Dozens have been handed over to the United States for interrogation without any trial in Pakistan.


Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry among others drew the ire of General Musharraf when a full bench of Supreme Court headed by Justice Chaudhry cancelled the sale of 75 per cent stake and handing over of management control of the Pakistan Steel Mills to the consortium comprising Russian Magnitogorsk, Saudi Al Tuwariqi and Arif Habib Securities of Pakistan for $362 million on 23 June 2006 and for issuing notices to the government on enforced disappearances.


As the Supreme Court sought to assert its role, President Musharraf decided to destroy its independence altogether.


III. Organise a Special Session of the Human Rights Council


The United States and European Union have impressed upon Pakistan to restore democracy. While the Netherlands have suspended the aid, the United States stated that it would review its aid to Pakistan, including about $1 billion per year as military assistance for the war against terror.


The situation in Pakistan is not “an internal matter” as Pakistan tries to make out. Rather, the situation in Pakistan has international ramifications especially in the war against terror.


If the western countries are serious about the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Pakistan, they must sponsor a resolution for a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council to discuss the prevailing situation in Pakistan.

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