Friday, September 29, 2023
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OPINION: Human Rights: A perspective



Justice( R) Ali Nawaz Chowhan delivered this lecture at Islamabad Serena Hotel as part of Oxbridge lecture series. Here are excerpts from the lecture.
PRELUDE: I begin telling you a seldom uttered truth which is also my strong belief that Pakistan was created to promote ideals of human rights not otherwise.
Now I pay my compliments and tributes to: a) Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt who chaired the Commission that drafted Universal Declaration of Human Rights .The EU who used GSP+ as an incentive for the creation of National Commission For Human Rights in Pakistan, c) To His Holiness The Pope for his unprecedented humanitarian efforts. I further take this opportunity of requesting His Holiness to intervene in Indian held Kashmir for the protection of human rights as in my view he is the only person who can intervene after the wars between the two neighbors, failure of diplomatic efforts and the UN resolutions. We have already requested His Holiness in this connection, d) To Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor for the Federal Republic of Germany for generously accepting refugees from Syria, e) The Oxbridge Society for its work to foster scholarship and particularly Mr. Irshad Ullah Khan whom I have given the alias the spirit of Islamabad—In German Zeigiest
I am the first Chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) duly selected by bipartisan committee of the Parliament. But I do not claim this position as the founding father of Pakistan was the first head of the committee appointed on fundamental rights of the citizen of Pakistan and on matters relating to minorities. The First Committee on Fundamental Rights submitted its report on fundamental rights to the Constituent Assembly in 1950 and while presenting this report, our Quaid spoke on history, justice, fraternity, protection of human rights including rights of minorities.
Human Rights were not a free gift. They were only won by long, hard struggle. This struggle, with all the efforts and sacrifices that it demanded, was inevitable: respect for individual rights, when it passes from theory to practice, entails conflict with certain interests and the abolition of certain privileges. Men and women everywhere should be familiar with the dramatic incidents – well-known and obscure – of conquest which has been largely achieved though the heroism of the noblest of their fellows. (UNESCO)
Those who negotiated and signed the Charter of the United Nations opened a veritable floodgate to new possibilities of expanding international human rights as never before in the history of the world.
Visions of human rights had come from diverse religious leaders, philosophers, individual men and women with a sense of responsibility towards victims of abuse or civil society.
The answers to these vexing questions, as accurately described by those who wrestled with them, “where far from clear,” particularly since they consciously sought to discover universal principles by creating a discourse “wherein no regional philosophy or [single] way of life was permitted to prevail”.
Jacques Maritain, a former professor of philosophy at the Institute Catholique de Paris heavily influenced by the writings of Thomas Aquinas rightly cautioned that no bill of rights could ever be exhaustive and final and by necessity must always be expressed in terms of the state of the moral conscience and of civilization and any given time in history. UNESCO convened the special Committee on the Philosophic Principles of the Rights of Man in Paris during the early summer of 1947.
The UNCHR was established in 1946 by ECOSOC (economic and social council). It met for the first time in January 1947 and established a drafting committee for the universal declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the UN on December 10th 1948.
The Commission held its final meeting on March 27, 2006 at Geneva and was replaced by the UN Human Rights Council the same year.
The Commission was headed by Eleanor Roosevelt. The members were all illustrious people like Dr. Ricardo Afaro of Chile etc.
When the General Assembly met during its September-December 1948 session in Paris, it did so in a mood that juxtaposed both fear and hope. On the one hand, the ominous fall of Czechoslovakia to a Communist coup and the frightful risk of war resulting from the Soviet blockade of Berlin created a plummeting and terrifying frigidness to the Cold War.
1. On Jan 2nd, 1949 while addressing the first French envoy to Pakistan, the Quaid said:
“The cry of liberty, fraternity and quality which was raised during the French Revolution had its repercussions. And their ideals and principles are still buoying this hope of many down trodden nations.
2. In another speech which was broadcasted to the people of Australia on February 19th , 1948 the Quaid said;
“ … make no mistake, Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it Islam demands from us the tolerance of other creeds and we welcome in close association with us all those who of what so ever creed are themselves willing and ready to play their part as true and loyal citizens of Pakistan” .

• Faith is not commanded on the basis of authority, but is invited on the basis of understanding (17.09)
• There is complete freedom to believe or to reject
“say to them: it is the truth from your Lord therefore let him who will believe and let him who will disbelieve (8.30)
• Those who believe (in the Qur’an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians and who believe in Allah and the last day and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve. (2:62)
• Allah made the nature of mankind innocent. The evil enters from outside.
We have to check this evil from outside through legislative and executive acts.
• The debate on the national commission for human rights stared in2010 and it took two years when it became the Law. For the protection and promotion of human rights in accordance with the Rights guaranteed by the constitution and Treaties ratified by Pakistan. Section 9 of the Statute gives the commission a wide sweep as never before for fulfilling its huge mandate. For the first time a procedure was enacted to question violations attributed to persons from the armed forces and intelligence agencies. It is authorized to become a party in judicial proceedings before any court involving human rights issues. Under this law human rights courts are to be established. And special prosecutors are to be appointed. .The commission has also to carry on research on the causes of extremism and work with the stake holders which includes provinces and the NGOs, to improve the human rights situation in the country. It is a high status body appointed by a parliamentary committee of both houses to select a chairman of the status of a supreme court judge and members from the provinces besides, a member from the minorities. The chairperson of the commission on status of women is also a member. The commission enjoys judicial powers and can exercise powers to summon persons or record from any authority..It can also take action against a delinquent civil servant as per its law.
It has to lay its reports to the Parliament and work as an independent body free from any administrative interference . It has also been given financial independence . The NCHR is being recognized by its counterparts throughout the world .in good words.

• Operational Problems
Despite lack of resources, we have investigated Kasur Child Abuse Case and published our fact finding report. We appreciate His Excellency the Prime Minister for directing the concerned authorities to implement the recommendations reflected in our report. We are investigating some important human rights cases which inter alia include Mina Hajj Stampede, Environment Degradation, violation of rights of daily wages teachers, non-registration of some important life saving drugs etc. Two references on human rights issues have been referred to the commission by the Senate of Pakistan for investigation. I am visiting Thar shortly to study the Human rights issues there. We have offered to become observers in the trials before the military courts in the interest of ensuring due process.
The Commission is aware of difficulties that our minorities are facing in Pakistan. We celebrated minority day and have taken up the issue of the establishment viz. a viz. operationalization of the National Commission For Minorities in Pakistan. We are working with the United Nations particularly UNICEF for the promotion and protection of children rights in Pakistan. We have engaged many National Human Rights Institutions including Asia Pacific Forum which represents 22 National Commissions for Human Rights of Pacific region, many transnational development agencies, INGOs and other representatives of civil society for the promotion and protection of human rights in Pakistan.
We have received a communication of His Excellency Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights felicitating to the Commission on its creation and offering help for its success.
Despite all financial and administrative constraints at this formative stage, we reiterate our commitment to promote and protect human rights in Pakistan. We are hopeful that the Government of Pakistan will extend its full support to the Commission in its quest for improving human rights situation in the Country.
JUSTICE (R) A. N. CHOWHAN is the Chairman
National Commission for Human Rights.

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