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Asis Pacific Forum ( APF Bulletin) January 2012

Pakistan’s National Assembly has unanimously passed a bill to establish an independent human rights institution (NHRI) with wide judicial powers.

The passage of the bill on 21 December 2011 follows years of advocacy from national organisations, with advice and support provided by regional and international organisations, including the APF and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Under the bill, the National Commission for Human Rights will have the power to receive and consider complaints. When undertaking inquiries, it will have the powers of a civil court and can summon any individual, public or private department.

A retired judge from the higher judiciary, or any other “eminent person of known integrity, competence and experience,” must head the body, which will include two members from minority communities and one from each province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Islamabad Capital Territory. It will also include three female members.

The commission will have the power to intervene in any proceedings involving alleged violations of human rights, to visit jails nationwide and to appoint special investigation teams of officers from police and other law enforcement agencies.

It will be required to submit an annual report to the federal government which will then be bound to lay it before parliament.

In addition, the commission will have full administrative and financial autonomy and its accounts will be audited by the auditor general of Pakistan. It will be based in Islamabad and may establish offices in provincial headquarters or other places as appropriate.

While supportive of its objectives, members of the Senate have referred the bill to the house committees on human rights and law and justice for review, with a report expected to be presented in late February.

If amendments are made, the Bill will need to be resubmitted to the National Assembly for consideration. Once approved by both houses of parliament, the Bill will require the signature of the President before becoming law.

The APF welcomes this significant progress in establishing a NHRI in Pakistan.

The APF conducted visits to in 2005 and 2008 to meet with key stakeholders and has provided technical advice during the drafting of legislation to promote compliance with the Paris Principles.

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