UN experts voice concern at events in Pakistan after Chief Justice is suspended

21 March 2007

Expressing concern about recent events in Pakistan where the President suspended the Chief Justice in a move widely seen as an attack on the independence of the judiciary, sparking demonstrations at which police used excessive force – two independent United Nations human rights experts today called on the country’s authorities to take action to remedy the situation.

The protests began on 12 March, just three days after President Pervez Musharraf suspended Chief Justice 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,” the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, said in a joint statement.

“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,” the experts said, expressing “serious distress” about the situation.

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, according to the statement.

The two experts reminded the Government of provisions enshrined in Pakistan’s Constitution 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,” they said.

“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.”

The experts also expressed concern about the “excessive force used against peaceful demonstrators” which they said runs contrary to international standards guaranteeing the right to peaceful assembly for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

They call on the Pakistani Government “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.”