A United Nations human rights expert today urged the Pakistani Government to address several remaining challenges to ensure the independence of the country's 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,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, said in a news release.
Working in an unpaid capacity, independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. Ms. Knaul's 11-day mission, which ended today, was the first one in 13 years to Pakistan by an independent expert of the Council.
While there, the Special Rapporteur met the country's Chief Justice as well as senior Government officials, judges, lawyers, academics, members of professional organizations, and representatives of civil society, the UN and international organizations.
The existence of two superior courts in the Constitution of Pakistan is “problematic and leaves space for interpretations which might be contradicting,” the expert noted, referring to the country's Supreme Court and the Federal Shariat Court.
She also voiced concern about the number and nature of reported cases of serious threats and attacks of judges and lawyers, noting that physical security is an essential condition for all actors in the judicial system to be able to carry out their duties without hindrance or interference.
“The judiciary must be properly equipped and resourced,” Ms. Knaul stressed. “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.”
On women's rights, the expert said that many stages of the justice system – ranging from filing a case with the police, to accessing lawyers, and appearing and testifying before courts – are “gender-biased, and therefore impede the full functioning of justice for women.”
Ms. Knaul encouraged further strengthening of special training on human rights law, including training on gender equality and women's rights. She also commended the Supreme Court for using its powers to address cases of serious human rights violations.
The independent expert's full report on her mission to Pakistan will be presented to the Council in June 2013.