Pakistan: promptly constitute an effective National Commission for Human Rights

On the eve of the 64th annual world Human Rights Day, the ICJ urges the Pakistani Government to promptly constitute a strong and effective National Human Rights Commission that is compliant with the UN Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (Paris Principles).

“Independent and credible national human rights institutions can be helpful for protecting and promoting human rights,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Director for Asia and the Pacific. “The Pakistan Government has been inexplicably dragging its feet despite repeated promises to constitute the Commission.”

In South Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh have established National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), making Pakistan a regional exception.

“A properly constituted national human rights commission will not by itself fix any country’s human rights problems, but it can be part of the solution,” said Zarifi. “Pakistan can and should learn from the lessons of failed NHRIs in the region and constitute an institution that can address the real needs of all people in the country.”

Pakistan passed the National Commission for Human Rights Act in 2012. The law provides for an independent commission with broad powers to promote human rights and to investigate human rights violations.

However, the law significantly limits the Commission’s mandate where the armed forces are accused of committing human rights violations.

In such cases, the Commission is only authorized to seek a report from the Government, and make recommendations if it sees fit.

The law further emphasizes that the functions of the Commission “do not include inquiring into the act or practices of the intelligence agencies”.

“The proposed Commission’s restricted mandate over the armed forces, and especially the intelligence agencies, is of grave concern given that Pakistan’s military and intelligence services are accused of perpetrating gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture and ill-treatment,” Zarifi added.

“A human rights commission that does not have jurisdiction over abuses by these actors risks being toothless and ineffective—and worst, a cover for continuing government inaction in response to these violations.”


Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)

Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser (London), t: +44 7889565691; e: reema.omer(a)


Section 3 (a) (ii) of the Paris Principles, which provide the minimum standards required by national human rights institutions to be considered credible and effective, states that a NHRI should have the power to hear a matter without higher referral over “any situation of violation of human rights which it decides to take up”.

Because of the proposed Commission’s limited mandate over the military, it is questionable whether the proposed National Human Rights Commission is compliant with the Paris Principles.

During its 2012 Universal Periodic Review, Pakistan accepted multiple recommendations to speedily operationalize the National Commission for Human Rights.

Over two years since the Review, there has been little progress in constituting the Commission, let alone amending the law establishing the Commission to ensure that it complies with the Paris Principles.

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