In accordance with international obligations and as a state party to treaties concerning human rights, Pakistan had established the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), which has now been non-functional for almost a year since the four-year terms of its chairman and other members expired on 30th May, 2019. Reportedly, the former chairman went to the court and secured a stay order, which is yet to be vacated by the judiciary. It is rather unfortunate that constitutional bodies such as the NCHR in this case, which are set up to protect the interests of the common people, often fall victim to political schemes and unnecessary litigation.

Be it women and children rights, press freedom, freedom of expression or religion and belief – Pakistan has to improve on all fronts. The state’s security-centric disposition has meant that human rights have never been prioritised by successive governments. And as observed around the world, when states attempt to meet the challenges of terrorism and militancy, human rights considerations tend to take a backseat and ordinary citizens become ‘collateral damage’. Other times, self-serving politicians betray their voters by focusing all their energies on accumulating power and wealth and destroy institutions in the process.

As an independent body, the NCHR’s mandate is quite expansive. It entails conducting investigations of human rights, reviewing and advising on legislation, reporting on and monitoring government’s performance, creating a national action plan for the fulfilment of human rights and making recommendations to ensure compliance with the Constitution as well as international treaties. This is crucial work, especially for a country like Pakistan; work that has been left unattended for a year now. It is hoped that the courts and the government will play their part in making the independent body functional again.