Meeting of Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights was held here at Parliament House on Friday with Senator Walid Iqbal in Chair.
The Committee unanimously passed a resolution to condemn Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and killing of innocent Palestinians, along with the deprivation of their basic human rights. The resolution called upon the international community and the United Nations to immediately intervene to put an end to Israeli aggression, and emphasized that durable peace would only be ensured upon establishment of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine on basis of pre-1967 frontiers, with Al-Quds as its capital.
Senator Walid Iqbal thereafter informed the Committee that, in the last few days, he had been flooded with written and oral communications, saying that the Senate Standing Committee on Interior had recently approved a private member’s bill calling for public execution of certain capital offences, without proper deliberation and without appreciating the seriousness of the matter from a human rights perspective. He announced before the Senators present that while one Senate Standing Committee could not interfere in the legislative business referred to another Senate Standing Committee, the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights would be taking up and thoroughly examining in its next meeting, with proper expert advice, the subject of public executions generally.
The Committee thereafter deliberated on the rising trend of domestic violence in the country, with special reference to the case of the minor girl, Rizwana, in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). Senator Prof. Dr. Mehr Taj Roghani, the mover of the matter, applauded the National Commission for Rights of the Child (NCRC), as well as law enforcement agencies, for their effective response to the incident, and maintained that while there is a dire need for legislation criminalizing domestic child labor in the country, it would be a real tightrope act keeping in mind that poor and indigent families would deem it an existential threat to their livelihoods.
The Chairperson of NCRC, Ayesha Raza Farooq, apprised the Committee that hazardous child labor has already been criminalized in ICT, but our provinces have failed to legislate effectively towards prevention of child labor in the country. The Committee was of the view that besides preventing domestic child labor, Article 25A of the Constitution should also be implemented in letter and spirit, which makes it obligatory for every citizen to acquire necessary education.
Senator Dr. Humayun Mohmand argued that current economic constraints have made it difficult for parents to feed their children, let alone provide education. Chairperson of NCRC remarked that her Commission was working on effective legislation involving the matter, and that the bill preventing domestic child labor will be tabled in the Senate quite soon. DIG Operations ICT informed the Committee that the accused woman in this case was arrested the day after the incident. However, the husband of the accused, who is a Civil Judge form Punjab, posted in the National Judicial Academy in Islamabad at the time of commission of the crime, has not cooperated with the police despite several requests made to the Registrar of Lahore High Court. The Committee, while disposing of the matter, directed the ICT Police to provide updates to the Committee through the Ministry of Human Rights every two months, so that proper investigation and prosecution of all concerned could be ensured.
The Committee also took up the vandalization of churches and homes in Jaranwala on 16th August 2023, as well as the steps taken so far for their rehabilitation, along with that of the affected community. CPO Faisalabad Captain (R) Ali Zia highlighted that the incident occurred in the early morning of 16th August and resulted from the deliberate placement of blasphemous materials near the home of a particular person for reason of personal enmity, so that the person concerned would be wrongfully prosecuted, or fall victim to vigilante justice, being a classic case of misuse of blasphemy laws to settle personal scores. This, the Committee was informed, was done by Muslims against Muslims, by Muslims against non-Muslims, and by Non-Muslims against non-Muslims.
CPO Faisalabad apprised the Committee that the ensuing violent mob action resulted in damage to more than 20 Churches and almost ninety houses of Christian community, although loss of life was completely avoided due to a hastily-planned evacuation process employed by the District Administration and Police. Senator Dr. Mohammad Humayun Mohmand questioned how long it took for the Police to properly arrive at the scene, to which the CPO Faisalabad replied that the Police arrived approximately three hours after the incident. The Committee was of the unanimous view that timely Police response in proper numbers could have prevented loss of property as well, along with preventing loss of life, but the Punjab Government seemed indifferent to the mental distress and agony, as well as destruction of social fabric, that loss of property comprising homes and places of worship can cause as it did in the instant case.
CPO Faisalabad additionally stated that, after the fact, around 57 'Meesaq' Centers have been established across all districts of Punjab to protect minority rights, promote interfaith harmony among various religions, and, more importantly, to prevent such incidents in the future. Moreover, the Police are working with the Chamber of Commerce to find suitable jobs for Christians and have successfully secured a one-month fee exemption for Christian children of the affected area who are in private schools. By contrast, the minority member of the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) informed the Committee that Jaranwala became the eleventh major incident since 1997 involving persecution of the Christian community, but it is only now, after 26 years, and upon recommendation by the Ministry of Human Rights that SOPs are being formulated by Police and District Administrations across Pakistan on how such incidents can be prevented in the future.
The Committee thereupon observed, unanimously, that it was astonishing as well as shameful that the Government of Punjab, going right up to its Chief Minister, had not been held accountable to date for the lapses and negligence on their part in preventing such widespread and emotionally distressing loss of property, and unanimously recommended that, in addition to the 10 JITs already established to look into the matter, an eleventh JIT should be formed to take the Government of Punjab to task.
On a related note, Chairperson NCHR, Rabiya Javeri Agha, informed the Committee that a total of 179 persons are in currently under trial on blasphemy charges and are being held in jails across the country, while 17 convicts are serving jail sentences in this regard, including 11 from Islamabad, none from Punjab, four from Sindh and two from Balochistan.
In the face of the Committee expressing its continued concern about frequent misuse of blasphemy laws to settle personal scores, Chairperson NCHR explained that Senator Sherry Rehman had presented a legislative bill addressing the issue ten to twelve years ago, but the proposed legislation did not get enacted. The Committee was thus of the unanimous view that, if she is agreeable, Senator Sherry Rehman be asked to attend an upcoming Committee meeting as special invitee in order to share her input and experience in relation to the matter, along with suggesting an effective way forward, if possible.
At the tail end of the meeting, Committee Chair Senator Walid Iqbal proposed that, to reverse the trend of our society’s descent into intolerant radicalization, it would be important to include in all educational curricula, the teachings of the Quran, the Sunnah and the country’s founding fathers in relation to interfaith harmony and protection of the rights of minorities. In this regard, he cited Quaid-e-Azam’s famous address to the Constituent Assembly of 11th August 1948, to the effect that, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan…”
He also quoted from Allama Iqbal’s Allahabad Address of 1930, in which he presented the idea of Pakistan, “A community which is inspired by feelings of ill-will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities. Nay, it is my duty, according to the teaching of the Quran, even to defend their places of worship, if need be.” This, he explained, was a reference to Surah 22 Ayat 40 of the Quran, “If God had not created the group (of Muslims) to ward off the others from aggression, then churches, synagogues, oratories and mosques where God is worshipped most, would have been destroyed.”
He concluded that Pakistan Resolution of 23rd March 1940 also, in relevant part, called for mandatory safeguards and protection of the religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests of minorities.
In attendance were Senator Prof. Dr. Mehr Taj Roghani, Senator Dr. Mohammad Humayun Mohmand, Senator Seemee Ezdi, Senator Quratul Ain Marri, Senator Abida Muhammad Azeem, Senator Falak Naz Chitrali, Secretary Human Rights AD Khawaja,Chairperson for National Commission for Human Rights Rabiya Javeri Agha, Chairperson National Commission on the Rights of Children Ayesha Raza Farooq, DIG Operations Shakir Hussain Dawar, Secretary Human Rights Punjab Dr. Muhammad Shoaib Akbar, City Police Officer Faisalabad Capt.(R) Ali Zia. Other senior officers of relevant departments were also in attendance.