The Joint Action Committee for Peoples’ Rights (JAC), an umbrella outfit of civil society organisations, has expressed its disappointment over the passing of the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023 from the National Assembly.
A press release issued by JAC on Tuesday stated that it was disappointed to note that the National Assembly has passed the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023, which is inconsistent with UN Paris Principles and the directives of the Supreme Court of 19 June 2014 (SMC No. 1 of 2014).
Urging the government to enact a permanent National Commission for Minorities’ Rights to fulfill its promise, the JAC press release stated that, “The bill as passed, manifests gaps, which need to be addressed to make the prospective minority rights body truly functional, and effective, independent, autonomous, and resourceful minority rights institution.
The Federal Ministry for Religious Affairs, since 1990, formed ad-hoc commissions which failed to make any progress towards policy reforms and redressing complaints related to minorities’ rights because they lacked a sound legal basis, broad mandate and competence, independence and autonomy, adequate powers and resources.
“We wish that the government had learned from the past experiments and the issues faced by the previous minorities commissions.”
The Supreme Court in 2014 directed the government to establish a minority rights institution with a mandate “to monitor the practical realisation of the rights and safeguards provided to the minorities under the Constitution and law, and frame policy recommendations for safeguarding and protecting minorities’ rights”.
Moreover, the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023 should include:
(a) The word ‘rights’ be included in the title of the bill, and the institution must be called National Commission for Minorities Rights (NCMR) to make the perspective clear.
(b) The membership and composition of the commission should enable respect and realisation of human rights, therefore, it must reduce government representation and influence as well as reduce the religious divide or cancel the possibility to promote favourites among minorities or neglect others.
(c) Four Hindus, two each from the upper castes and scheduled castes, and four Christians, one each from the provinces should be included to serve as members to incorporate provincial representation.
(d) The representation of Christians on the basis of denominations and Hindus on the basis of caste identity cannot be a qualification, therefore, the appointments should be made on merit, considering the minorities commission a human rights institution, not a religious body.
(e) The representation of smaller religious communities should be included to ensure reflection of the religious diversity in the composition of the minorities commission, however, one seat for Sikhs rather than three seats would be appropriate in proportion to their small population.
(f) The representation of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) proposed in the bill should be dropped to constitute an independent minorities commission parallel to other national human rights institutions, rather than subservient to the above-mentioned bodies.
(g) It is a tradition already set to incorporate ex-officio representation in national human rights institutions (NHRI). Therefore, the minorities commission should have one representative each from the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), and the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC). Moreover, this arrangement would naturally strengthen NHRI’s work, build synergies and avoid overlap.
(h) One representative of the Ministry of Finance should be included so that the ministry is aware of the developments and financial needs of the minorities commission.
(i) Make one-third female participation mandatory amongst the non-official representation, as well as, the official representation.
(j) The appointment to the minority rights body should be through parliament rather than a selection committee, and it should present an annual report to the parliament rather than the President of Pakistan.
(k) Assigning minorities’ commission the work regarding places of worship is beyond its mandate as it will be a departure from the functions of the national human rights institution. Moreover, it is the work of the communities, local administration, and other government bodies.
(l) The minorities commission should be able to use one-liner allocated budget necessary to ensure financial autonomy. Moreover, the government’s commitment to supporting NHRIs should be reflected in the annual federal budget by allotting the budget for their functioning.