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21 March 2007

The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, issued the following statement today:

"The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders express serious distress about recent events in Pakistan. On 9 March 2007, President Pervez Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, over unspecified allegations of 'misuse of office'.

Demonstrators, including lawyers, journalists, political activists and civil society actors, have taken to the streets since 12 March to protest against this presidential decision, which is broadly seen as constituting an attack against the independence of the judiciary. Law enforcement authorities, in some instances, have used force in an excessive manner against peaceful demonstrators, and have arrested several of them. Also, journalists were physically hindered from reporting on the events.

In this context, several judges have resigned in the past few days and lawyers in various parts of the country are boycotting court proceedings in sign of protest against the suspension and against police abuses against demonstrators.

The Special Rapporteur and the Special Representative wish to remind the Government of provisions enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan that establish a specific procedure as a safeguard to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and to protect judges from undue interference by the executive branch. In the present case, it is widely believed that the Chief Justice was suspended without respect for these procedures.

The circumvention of the Constitution constitutes a serious interference of the executive with the independence of the judiciary. This threatens the proper functioning of the country’s judicial system.

Furthermore, the experts are concerned about the excessive force used against peaceful demonstrators. This is contrary to international standards, which guarantee the right to peaceful assembly for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is the duty of the State to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats or any other arbitrary action as a consequence for his or her exercise of these rights.

The two United Nations experts call upon the Government of Pakistan to follow scrupulously the constitutional procedures for an inquiry related to the Chief Justice’s conduct, to immediately halt the excessive force applied by law enforcement authorities and to investigate thoroughly these actions, and to do its utmost to ensure a continued functioning of the administration of justice in conformity with international standards"


For use of the information media; not an official record