Quetta summit of NJPC

By Malik Siraj Akbar

A significant two-day meeting of the National Judicial Policy-making Commission concluded in Quetta the other day. The meeting was chaired by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice Ifthakar Chaudhary and the chief justices of all four provinces’ high courts.

The meeting discussed a number of important issues such as the pending cases in different local and high courts and provision of speedy justice to every citizen of the land. The matter concerning the missing persons dominated the deliberations of the judges’ meeting. It was acknowledged as the most pressing issue not only in the meeting but also mentioned in both the speeches delivered by the Chief Justice of Pakistan which were made during two different dinner events hosted in his honor.

The Chief Justice confessed that the situation in Balochistan was complicated and needed joint efforts by the elected democratic government and the judiciary to resolve all outstanding issues including the matter of missing persons. The elected government and the judiciary are collectively struggling to provide relief to the masses. The democratic system is not threatened by the judiciary and the impression about a tussle between the government and the judiciary should end. The CJP added that if someone had objections against the judgments passed by the courts then they should consult appellate courts rather than speaking against the judiciary on the private news channels.

Throughout the two days of the meeting, the people of Balochistan, mainly the family members of the missing persons, were clung with the hope for a breakthrough. They were justifiably expecting a very harsh response from the CJP over lack of action by concerned departments about the disappearance of hundreds or thousands of Balochs. Public expectations have been going up and down in different phases. Firstly, they began to hope that their loved ones, who were allegedly whisked away by the intelligence agencies during the eight-year long dictatorial regime of General Pervez Musharraf, with the restoration of the chief justice. One of the most promising slogans of the entire judicial movement was the recovery of the missing persons. The supporters of the chief justice complained that Justice Chaudhary had been removed from his post by General Musharraf due to his proactive role in the getting the missing persons resurfaced and released.

When no major headway was made in the case of the missing persons even after the restoration of the deposed CJP, another round of optimism came with the presentation of the much-hyped Balochistan Package in November 2009. Since the package was unveiled a few days before the Eid, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani assured that all the missing persons would return their respective homes on the eve of the Eid. The promise was once not fulfilled as none of the missing persons returned as was pointed out by Voice for the Missing Baloch Persons, an organization comprising of the missing persons’ families.

The issue of the missing persons is indeed the most pressing matter prevailing in Balochistan at the moment. There is clearly lack of institutional coordination between the executive and the judiciary. While the provincial government has frequently grumbled over lack of cooperation by the secrete services, a similar response has been given by the top judiciary as well. It seems that both the pillars of the state are trying to throw the responsibility of recovering the missing persons on each other’s shoulders.

As far as the families of the missing persons are concerned, they have lost faith in both the branches of the state but can’t still live restfully. They wake up immediately and rush to any place where they see some hope. They have responded to every call for submission of the database of their loved ones who have disappeared for a long time. They have provided data to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the Home and Tribal Affairs Department, Government of Balochistan and the National Judicial Commission. Work regarding the recovery of the missing persons has not moved beyond data collection which is very depressing and highly regrettable.

The “independent judiciary”, as it claims to be, should not suffice with rhetoric as seen from the politicians and bureaucrats. Every passing day entails enormous sufferings for these victim families. The myth of supremacy of law will translate into a reality when all the missing persons are recovered and brought before the courts of the land to defend all the charges leveled against them. Amid the current set of practices, people who refuse to follow the prescribed legal method of arresting people, taking their remand and presenting them before a court are the biggest criminals. They pose a serious threat to the rule of law as they clearly refuse to abide by the law in spite of being the employees of different government institutions.

Supremacy of law takes place in societies where the powerful are equally punished for transgressing the law. Selective application of law only on the weaker segments of the citizenry is not dispensation of justice but an expansion and brazen endorsement of tyranny.

(This piece originally appeared in The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English language newspaper)

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