Civil Society Voices Concern Over Minorities’ Commission Bill

Lahore, 8 August 2023 - The Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights (JAC) has voiced its concerns over the recent passing of the National Commission for Minorities Bill, 2023 by the National Assembly. The committee believes the bill does not align with the UN Paris Principles and the directives of the Supreme Court from 19 June 2014.

JAC has been advocating for a permanent National Commission for Minorities’ Rights, and the current bill, they argue, has significant gaps that need addressing. They emphasize the need for a functional, effective, independent, and a resourceful minority rights institution.

Historically, the Federal Ministry for Religious Affairs has formed ad-hoc commissions since 1990. However, these commissions have been ineffective in policy reforms and addressing minority rights complaints due to their lack of legal foundation, broad mandate, independence, and resources.

The 2014 Supreme Court directive had explicitly asked the government to establish a minority rights institution to monitor the realization of minority rights and frame policy recommendations.

JAC has proposed several amendments to the bill, including:

Renaming the institution to National Commission for Minorities Rights (NCMR) to clarify its purpose.

Reducing government representation and influence to ensure the commission's independence.

Ensuring representation from various religious communities based on their population.

Dropping representation from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) to maintain the commission's independence.

Incorporating ex-officio representatives from other national human rights institutions.
Including a representative from the Ministry of Finance.

Ensuring one-third female participation.

Making appointments through parliament and presenting annual reports to the parliament instead of the President.

Refraining from assigning the commission tasks related to places of worship, as it's beyond its mandate.

Ensuring financial autonomy for the commission.

JAC hopes that these recommendations will be considered to ensure the protection and promotion of minority rights in the country.