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Pakistan: “Independence of judiciary should be reinforced as part of democratic transition” – UN expert

ISLAMABAD (29 May 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, welcomed today the recent years’ democratic developments in Pakistan, but urged the Government to address the many challenges remaining regarding the independence of the judicial system.

“The independence of the judicial system in Pakistan should be reinforced as a matter of priority so as not to lose the gains from the democratic transition,” said Ms. Knaul at the end of her official visit* to the country from 19 to 29 May 2012, the first one in 13 years by an independent expert of the UN Human Rights Council.

“I believe that the existence of two superior courts in the Constitution of Pakistan is problematic and leaves space for interpretations which might be contradicting,” the Special Rapporteur noted, referring to the Supreme Court and the Federal Shariat Court.

The UN human rights expert expressed her concern about the number and nature of reported cases of serious threats and attacks of judges and lawyers. “Physical security is an essential condition for all actors in the judicial system to be able to carry out their duties without hindrance or interferences,” she said.

“The judiciary must be properly equipped and resourced,” underlined Ms. Knaul. “Judges, prosecutors and lawyers lack adequate facilities, such as electricity, water and sanitation, offices, waiting rooms, libraries, and support staff, especially at the level of lower courts.”

The UN Special Rapporteur paid particular attention to the integration of a gender perspective and women’s rights at all levels of the justice system. She noted that many stages of the justice system, starting with filing a case with the police, to accessing lawyers, and appearing and testifying before courts, are gender-biased, and therefore impedes the full functioning of justice for women. The expert also encouraged further strengthening of special trainings on human rights law, including training on gender equality and women’s rights.

Ms. Knaul commended the Supreme Court for using its inherent powers to address cases of serious human rights violations, thus upholding human rights law and contributing to combating impunity. She warned, however, that the excessive use of the suo moto procedure (acting on its own cognizance) may undermine its own nature.

During her 11-day mission visit, which took her to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, the Special Rapporteur met the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Minister of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Ministers of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Pakistan and Punjab. She also held meetings with senior Government officials, judges of the Supreme Court, High Courts and the district courts, lawyers, members of professional organizations, representatives of civil society, UN and international organizations, and academics.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report including her conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.

Gabriela Knaul took up her functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. In that capacity, she acts independently from any Government or organization. Ms. Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems. Learn more: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/judiciary/index.htm

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12194&LangID=E

OHCHR Country Page – Pakistan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/PKIndex.aspx

Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/indjudiciary.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact:
Amanda Flores (+41 79 752 0485/ aflores@ohchr.org) or write to SRindependencejl@ohchr.org
Alice Harding Shackelford (+923008542243 / alice.shackelford@unwomen.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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