NEW YORK: Human Rights First has welcomed a letter sent by 15 Members of Congress to Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, commending measures taken by his government in support of judicial independence and urging the reinstatement of senior judges dismissed in November. “This letter comes at an important time. The judges have been released from house arrest, and the new government has pledged to reinstate them,” said Executive Director Maureen Byrnes. “The government must now fulfill its promises and carry out the hard work of reversing the damage to the courts and the constitution.”
Establishing an independent judiciary will be essential to reverse the repressive measures imposed under martial law and to provide a remedy for human rights violations. The courts are still composed of judges hand-picked by President Musharraf, despite the lifting of the martial law and the February elections that brought opposition parties to power. Furthermore, President Musharraf enacted last-minute amendments making many repressive measures permanent and prohibiting judicial review of his orders and actions.
The letter, which can be read here , was circulated by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) and signed by 13 other Republicans and Democrats, including the Co-Chair of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). It states: “We wish to commend the lawyers, opposition politicians, human rights activists, and journalists who showed courageous opposition to attacks on judicial independence and the rule of law during the state of emergency. We echo their calls for the government of Pakistan to reinstate the deposed judges and will continue to seek ways to support the restoration of judicial independence and the rule of law in Pakistan.”
The new government has taken some important steps to reverse the damage to the rule of law, and specifically towards reinstatement of the dozens of senior judges dismissed by President Musharraf. On March 9, the leaders of the two major parties pledged to issue a resolution reinstating the judges within 30 days of forming a government. On March 24, newly-elected Prime Minister Gilani ordered the release of the judges still under house arrest.
However, obstacles remain, including disputes among the Pakistani leadership. The resolution calling for reinstatement of the judges was supposed to go to the National Assembly this week, but may be delayed due to differences between parties. These setbacks are aggravated by the Bush Administration’s lack of support for reinstatement of all judges, making the congressional letter an especially important demonstration of support for the rule of law.-SANA