For Immediate Release: March 17, 2008
NEW YORK-The swearing in of a new Parliament today provides Pakistan the opportunity to restore its courts and Constitution, and gives the United States government an obligation to reverse its own failure to support these important efforts, Human Rights First said today.
Pakistan’s National Assembly, led by the former opposition parties that won clear victories over President Musharraf’s party in the February 18 elections, convenes today. When the parties agreed to form a government a week ago, they also issued a joint statement pledging to reinstate the judges and reverse the repressive measures through a resolution passed within thirty days of convening, and then through a subsequent law.
“We hope the parties will act quickly to fulfill their promise to reverse the damage to Pakistan’s courts and Constitution,” said Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “Without truly independent courts, neither full respect for human rights nor long-term stability will be possible in Pakistan.”
The Bush Administration has been publicly silent on the reinstatement of the judges and the reversal of constitutional amendments issued during martial law late last year, rarely going beyond general statements about the importance of an independent judiciary. There have also been recent news reports that the U.S. is in fact pressuring the new leadership to abandon efforts to restore all the judges.
“The U.S. should speak out publicly for the reinstatement of the judges and the reversal of constitutional amendments issued during martial law, and support the lawyers who are standing up for the rule of law,” Byrnes added. “The lawyers I met with in Pakistan were looking to the United States to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Byrnes traveled to Pakistan in December, before martial law was revoked. She met with lawyers, dismissed judges, human rights advocates, and senior government officials.
Musharraf had imposed martial law on November 3. He eventually revoked it on December 15, but the damage was done. Musharraf had dismissed, and even detained, any judges who might have checked his authority. Furthermore, when he lifted martial law, Musharraf made sweeping changes to the Constitution that affirmed his dismissals of judges and stripped the courts of their power to review a broad range of executive action. Orders and amendments imposed under martial law remain in effect, allowing for military trials of civilians and threatening prison sentences and fines for media criticism of government officials.