Supreme Court’s Judgment on Minorities Still Awaits Compliance After 5 Years
Five years ago on this date, a bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan concluded suo motu proceedings addressing major grievances of religious minorities in the country. The resulting judgment was lauded by legal experts and activists as a landmark that not only provided a framework for protecting and promoting minority rights in Pakistan but also inspired hope among various stakeholders as well as victims of human rights violations belonging to minority communities.
Eight specific orders were passed by the bench. Eight applications regarding forced conversions, illegal occupation and attacks on places of worship, etc. had been clubbed together in the judicial dicta that was delivered.
A study titled When Compliance Fails Justice, conducted by the Centre for Social Justice 27 months later (i.e. November 2016), showed gaps in the implementation of the directives given by the court on part of the provincial and federal governments.
One area ruled upon by the court addressed systemic indoctrination in the education sector. Since implementation of the Supreme Court’s judgement had largely been lacking, particularly with regard to discriminatory or hate material continuing to be part of the education system, in June 2018 the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Centre for Social Justice and the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation together approached the Supreme Court with a complaint against the federal and provincial government demanding the removal of such material from textbooks, etc. The Supreme Court initiated an assessment and its implementation under the Shoaib Suddle Commission in January 2019. However, the work of the Suddle Commission soon got stalled due to similar impediments that had hindered the implementation of the court’s verdict in the first place, i.e. bureaucratic red-tape and lack of institutional will and resources.
An updated assessment with regard to compliance was carried out by the Centre for Social Justice, claiming that compliance had remained below 25%. The assessment titled A Long Wait for Justice being launched in Islamabad on the fifth anniversary of the judgment does not merely analyse the complaints but also forays into the possible and potential causes of non-compliance. For instance, in terms of implementation of job quota, the evidence provided by government departments and institutions clearly indicates that compliance is weak and sporadic at best – concluding that it would be difficult to expect implementation without a proper monitoring body established by statute.
Perhaps this brings us to the singular and most far-reaching point of concern addressed in the judgment – the institutional vacuum within the administrative framework of the state vis-a-vis minorities.
Unfortunately, to date, no independent, statutory oversight body has ever been commissioned at any level of government (federal, provincial or local) for the protection of minority interests – potentially, it is a moment to stop and reflect on the deeply ingrained roots of the widespread and systemic bias, discrimination and hatred doled out to minority groups in Pakistan.
Peter Jacob, a prominent human rights activist and lead researcher of the report, has stated in a conversation that the implementation of the court’s judgment is not limited to certain provisions and some action for minorities. According to Jacob, “The real gain lies in the institutional reforms and a transformation towards a more inclusive society and rule of law.”
In short, orders of the Supreme Court continue to fall on deaf ears. The inertia shown by successive governments has demonstrably undermined a truly progressive and promising set of directives issued by the country’s apex court. With only superficial developments and little tangible progress – for now, it seems the minority focused movements led by NGOs, journalists and civil society leaders calling for immediate implementation of the judgment, is caught in a seemingly endless cobweb of official notifications; the lack of seriousness and motivation in governance reduces such communication to a dead letter.
Neglect and biases towards minorities pervade across state and society. Despite constitutional directives under Article 20 and 36, as well as Pakistan’s commitments under international law (UDHR, ICCPR, etc.), it is unfortunate that discriminatory laws still exist, whether in the Constitution itself restricting minority citizens from holding Presidential office or in the more controversial anti-Ahmediya and blasphemy laws that have led to countless human rights violations of minority citizens.
While there is certainly a sense of disillusionment with the state’s treatment of minorities, there is also some hope in knowing that change will come piecemeal. To that end, effective and timely implementation of the aforementioned judgment will be a big step towards building a future where all faith-based communities will be able to co-exist peacefully and come together to celebrate the country which boasts of a multi-faith and culturally diverse milieu.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.