June 10th, 2021 

By Ahmed Saeed 


National Party (NP) senator and member of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights Tahir Bizenjo has held the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) squarely responsible for conceding the committee’s chairmanship to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party.

“Senator Azam Nazir Tarrar conveyed to us that the PML-N will head the committee as their Senator Mushaid Hussain Syed expressed interest in chairing it,” Bizenjo told Voicepk.net. “But in the very first committee meeting, we came to know that Mushahid had bartered the Human Rights Committee to chair the Senate Standing Committee on Defence.”

Bizenjo added that he along with other members of the Human Rights Committee went to register their protest with Tarar, but the PML-N senator could not offer any explanation for this move.

“I even told Tarar that if Mushahid was not willing to head the Human Rights Committee, then rather than giving it to the government, the PML-N should have handed the chair to me as I consider the Human Rights Committee the most powerful especially under the current circumstances.”

The NP senator demanded that the PML-N clarify its position on the issue and explain whether Senator Mushahid conceded his position in favour of the PTI of his own will or on party orders.

Voicepk made several attempts to take PML-N’s stance on this issues but all efforts were in vain.

Traditionally, an opposition member heads the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, as the forum has the authority to take notice of rights violations in the country and summon top government functionaries.

Standing & functional committees – what is the difference?

In addition to nabbing chairmanship, the government also altered the committee’s status from functional to a standing committee.

A functional committee is a type of special forum that is constituted for those departments which do not have a ministry. A standing committee can only be formulated provided a concerned ministry remains active.

In the past, there was no ministry for human rights in Pakistan. Rather, it was afforded the status of a department under the Law Ministry. A functional committee subsequently constituted to give the Upper House an opportunity to oversee issues of rights violations in the country.

After 2008, the federal government established a separate ministry for human rights. But instead of setting up a relevant standing committee, Senator Afrasiab Khattak and Senator Farhatullah Babar opted not to change the committee’s status in order to ensure the committee would remain intact in case the government decided to abolish it in the future.

Jamiat Ulema-e Islam – Fazal (JUI-F) Senator Kamran Murtaza provided that changing the status of the committee is not an issue as a standing committee possesses more power than a functional committee. However, he said that the committee should have remained with the opposition as the forum oversees the rights situation in the country.

“If you want to play a positive role, then the Human Rights Committee is best. But if you want to improve ties with certain quarters, then the defence committee is the most appropriate forum.”

“Now, we will also be guilty of the victims’ cries”

Senior PML-N leader and former Federal Minister for Information Pervez Rashid also criticised Senator Muhsaid for handing over the committee to the government. He tweeted saying, “Human rights violations are a daily occurrence in our country. Its Senate Committee is a means of providing protection and justice to the victims. Now, we have also become guilty of the victims’ cries.”

Political and parliamentary affairs commentators have also expressed deep concern over giving the chairmanship of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights to a senator of the ruling party.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) said that the move will negatively impact the effectiveness of the body as a government-led committee might not take up rights violations as they deserve to be addressed.

“Raising issues of rights violations may be critical to the government, the establishment or intelligence agencies. In that case, the government man will be severely constrained. He will neither be able to discuss these matters freely nor will he be able to set the agenda of the committee,” Mehboob stated.

Khokhar blasts opposition for not retaining HR committee 

In the last tenure of the Senate (2018-2021), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar headed the Human Rights Committee. However, this time around he was not even nominated as a member despite his remarkable performance as former chairman.

Khokhar took notice of numerous instances of rights violation including enforced disappearances and attacks on journalists.

Khokhar took to Twitter to protest against this most recent development, as well as the conversion of the committee from functional to standing. He also took a jab at his own party’s senators.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman in defence of her party clarified that the PPP gave the Upper House Human Rights Committee to the PML-N as there was significant opposition to the PPP heading the committees in both the houses of Parliament.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari currently chairs the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights.

Rehman also stated that after the PML-N had traded the Human Rights Committee for the Defence Committee with the government, she along with PPP Senator Raza Rabbani tried their utmost to get it back, but her efforts in this regard were denied.