Chief Justice Awards Himself

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry Gives Himself Award

The Chief Justice will be traveling to London next month to receive the prestigious International Jurist Award 2012, media reported over the weekend. While this recognition is being lauded in the media, it seems that there might be more to the story than has been reported.

No doubt the International Jurist Award 2012 is something of a relief for the Chief Justice after being the subject of a rather unflattering report by another international organisation, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). The ICJ report questioned whether the Chief Justice had crossed the line of his constitutional role as jurist and was attempting to influence the direction of policy – the latter being the proper role of parliament, not the court.

Actually, the ICJ’s findings were similar to those of another report released late last year, this one by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Dr Mohammad Taqi describes the HCRP’s findings as follows:

The HRCP seems to be of the opinion that the superior judiciary’s overzealous use of the suo motu powers as well as entertaining petitions by the so-called interested parties— the definition of remains nebulous and ever-expanding— has taken up time and energy of the courts to the detriment of other cases. In addition to— and often at the expense of— its normal function as the court of appeal, “the country’s apex judicial forum was also functioning as an ombudsman’s office, as an administrative court, as an anti-corruption tribunal, as a supreme investigation agency, and as the sole defender of not only the constitution but also of public morality”. In a country where the backlog of cases is to the tune of millions, by seizing itself with issues cherry-picked from or by the media or thrown in its lap for political reasons, the Supreme Court has clearly spread itself too thin.

After receiving such reviews by independent international legal organisations, finally having his work praised by an international legal organisation must be quite comforting to the Chief Justice. This award has certainly pleased the media as well as certain opposition politicians who are cheer leading for the Chief Justice in his decisions against the government. After storming the Supreme Court in 1997 during his own contempt case, Nawaz Sharif has become the Chief Justice’s most loyal servant. Even PTI’s Jahangir Tareen who only a few years ago was defending Gen. Musharraf’s attacks against the Chief Justice has had a change of heart now that the Chief Justice is attacking his political rivals.

There is, of course, one difference between the international legal organisations that are criticising the Chief Justice and the one that is granting him an award next month. That difference being that the Chief Justice himself is Vice-President of the organisation giving him the award.

It’s rather ironic, one must admit, that for all his talk about the importance of an independent judiciary, the Chief Justice is going to accept an award from an organisation that he himself sits as Vice-President. I will leave it to you, dear reader, to interpret this irony for yourself. As for me, I think that until the common man can get justice, perhaps the Chief Justice should be a little more humble about whether he deserves any awards – especially when they’re handed out by his own organisation.

Sana Saleem: Distorted priorities?

Sana SaleemHow many of us remember the three-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped and thrown in a sewer, or the 13-year-old boy from Korangi who was gang-raped on Eid-ul-Fitr last year, or the five-year-old girl who was raped, strangled and later recovered from a garbage dump at a ground in Gizri?

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Annual Report 2009:

“968 children, 285 boys and 683 girls were sexually abused. Around 1,404 women murdered, including 647 in the name of ‘honour’. Around 928 women were raped and some 563 committed suicide.”

Another survey, conducted by Sahil, an NGO which raises awareness regarding child sexual abuse and exploitation, paints a haunting image:

“Out of a total of 1,216 cases reported in six months, 331 boys, whereas 885 girls had been sexually abused, and the percentage of the female cases was 72 per cent as compared to 28 per cent of male cases.”

Rape is grossly under-reported in Pakistan. The culture of silence and shame has been one of the biggest hurdles victims face. It is then a pity that the few, who choose to overlook cultural barriers and gather the courage to come forth, are forced to go through the ordeal for years before justice is served. In most instances, alleged rapists are acquitted due to loopholes in our judicial system, while sometimes the victims are pressurised to withdraw their case. The role of police in such cases has been extremely notorious. For instance, take the case of a 10-year-old boy from Lahore; despite medico-legal reports proving rape had occurred, the police was reluctant to file an FIR against the accused pedophile.

In Khipro, a student of class X was given sedatives and gang-raped but her ordeal wasn’t over. The heinous crime was filmed via a mobile phone camera and the video posted on various websites. In the aftermath of the incident, parents of more than 100,000 students have stopped their daughters from attending schools and colleges.

Even more shocking are reports of an alleged gang of blackmailers comprising boys and girls, from ‘respectable’ families, who have sexually assaulted girls, recorded videos of the victims and used it to blackmail the victim’s parent or posted it on the Internet.

What kind of people would commit such an atrocious crime, film it and upload the videos on the Internet is beyond me. Unfortunately, this is not new phenomenon, such incidences have been reported before. In March 2009, a teenage boy was gang-raped in police custody and the footage distributed over the Internet. Child porn continues to be accessed throughout Pakistan and now,  rape videos have also joined the league yet we see no outrage by these ‘upholders of morals and justice.’ The lack of coverage and public outrage at such incidents is extremely disturbing and worrisome. But then our priorities have been distorted for quite sometime. It is a pity that we live in a country where hundreds will march on the streets, calling for an all out ban on social media platforms because of an isolated incident, while horrifying stories of abuse do not merit our anger. If alarming figures from the HRCP reports and the increasing incidences of rape and abuse of women and children does not bring us back to our senses, I don’t know what will.

Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices,  Asian Correspondent and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She recently won the Best Activist Blogger award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.