Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced at a Christmas gathering in Islamabad that a draft bill was in the works and the establishment of a National Commission for Minorities' Rights (NCMR) would follow soon.

While this is a laudable initiative, assessing the challenges faced by the existing national human rights institutions (NHRI) is necessary before any new legislation is enacted or celebrated.


In 1996, a commission of inquiry on the status of women minutely examined the available protections of their socio-economic and political rights as well as the enforcement of these rights. The exercise, headed by Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, resulted in an official report to the parliament in 1997 and the establishment of the National Commission for the Status of Women (NCSW) in 2000, further consolidated through legislation in 2012.

Hence, from digging out the problems, to setting up an administrative commission, to finally establishing a permanent, statutory watchdog and advisory body - the formation of the NCSW - followed a logical sequence.

While the announcement of the setting up of a National Commission for Minorities' Rights is praiseworthy, lessons need to be learnt from the issues faced by the previous rights commissions established earlier

Yet the NCSW does not enjoy full independence and powers as proposed in the United Nations (UN) Paris Principles. It has limited financial resources, staff and powers to make interventions on urgent and important issues. All successes of this first-ever NHRI in Pakistan were due to its leadership's consistent efforts. Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi, Syeda Arifa, Anis Haroon, Khawar Mumtaz and Nilofer Bakhtiar worked exceptionally hard to make improvements in the legal and policy frameworks and protection mechanisms for women's rights.


The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) was enacted in 2012 and constituted in 2015. The NCHR was able to investigate important issues such as malnutrition-related child deaths in Sindh, the complaints of farmers of the Okara Military farms, Afghan refugees and torture in jails.

Its provincial offices, its bipartisan appointment (involving both the treasury and the opposition), its direct reporting to the national parliament, etc. makes the NCHR the most empowered NHRI so far. The previous and current NCHR has worked hard to build coordination with the state apparatus. Yet, the NCHR lacks an international...

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