[JURIST] Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] on Wednesday signed a bill [text, PDF] authorizing the creation of an independent human rights commission in Pakistan. The new committee will be authorized to investigate human rights violations in the country and make recommendations to the government. The bill does not authorize the commission to investigate military or intelligence officials. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] urged [press release] Zardari not to sign the bill until it was amended to give the commission the authority to investigate these government bodies. In a statement, Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said of the bill:
The bill creating the National Human Rights Commission contains many positive elements to promote and protect human rights in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said. The commission would be an independent body, with members appointed by a cross-party parliamentary committee. Its responsibilities would include monitoring the general human rights situation in Pakistan, investigating specific human rights violations, [and] making recommendations to the government...But a commission that cannot take on cases involving the army and intelligence agencies would perpetuate a cruel joke on Pakistanis whose rights have been violated.The bill was approved by Pakistan's National Assembly [official website] on May 4 and became law when it was signed Wednesday.
Pakistan has faced criticism for human rights issues recently. Earlier this month, a group of three UN human rights experts implored Pakistan to increase efforts to curb sectarian violence [JURIST report], noting a recent uptick in sectarian-related attacks. Last April, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [official website], a non-government organization, harshly criticized the Pakistani government [JURIST report] for its poor human rights record and called on government officials to fix the human rights abuses occurring in the country. Earlier that month, the US Department of State (DOS) [official website] released [JURIST report] the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials]. The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan [materials] were criticized for their conduct in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda; however, the 2008 Pakistani elections [JURIST report] were deemed "competitive and reflective of the people's will," restoring democratic rule and leading to some human rights progress.