National Commission for Minorities struggles for legitimacy

    Despite a year of its submission, the non-Muslim members of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) are awaiting approval of the draft act for an independent and autonomous body.

    “Since day one, our first question was how much independent, powerful and autonomous the commission is. All of us want legitimacy and constitutional support through an act of parliament,”  Albert David, a Christian member of the NCM, told Kross Konnection.

    “Once passed by the parliament, this commission will be at par with the National Commission on Human Rights, National Commission on the Status of Women, and National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. It will function better. Presently, the selection of NCM members falls under the sole discretion of the federal cabinet,” he added.

    David was speaking on the sidelines of a recent visit of the NCM delegation to Lahore to mark World Religion Day. The group visited different places of worship and held discussions with provincial authorities and other stakeholders on various challenges facing the minority communities.

    In Nov 2021, the government accepted the resignation of Catholic Archbishop of Lahore Sebastian Francis Shaw more than a year after he quit the membership of the NCM. Dr Liaquat Qaiser, head of the Full Gospel Assemblies of Pakistan, has replaced Shaw in the NCM amid criticism over the criteria for nominating members of the commission.

    According to NCM Chairman Chela Ram Kewlani, “strict criteria” has been set in the proposed act.

    “It’s a historic document. Unfortunately, the minorities are not united on a single platform. Our priority should be the religious minorities of Pakistan. I favor elected representatives,” he told Kross Konnection.

    The commission was formed 27 years ago but remained inactive without any regular meetings. Activists had been criticising the commission for existing only on paper.

    In 2014, the Supreme Court asked the federal government to set up a national mechanism to monitor human rights violations and to ensure constitutional safeguards to protect the rights of minorities.

    In May 2020, the government formally reconstituted the commission, but with no statutory powers. A draft NCM act of parliament currently awaits final vetting by the Ministry of Law.

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