We the people
In civilized democratic societies, the edifice of constitution stands on the scheme of fundamental rights embedded in it. Ranging from historic bills of rights to gradual evolution and expansion of rights in the Parliaments-the quantum of rights epitomizes the pro-citizens and humane-nature of the polity and its governance.
Pakistan started its journey in this regards on August 12, 1947 when ‘Committee on Fundamental Rights of Citizens and Matters related to Minorities’ was constituted in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Its work shaped the citizens part of Constitution of 1956 and continue to provide basis to expand these rights in the Constitution of 1973 and historic 18th Amendment in 2010. The 1962 Constitution initially had no Chapter on Fundamental Rights and it returned only through an amendment later on. Besides indigenous articulation of rights chapter-two members of the Constituent Assembly, Shaista Ikramullah and Sir Zafarulla Khan provided valuable in-puts in the process of authoring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
During last 50-year, the chapter on Fundamental Rights has been amended six times and the 18th Amendment actually expanded the rights including; right to education, right to information and fair trial etc.
The preamble of the Constitution 1973 emphasizes to observe principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam. It talks about guaranteed fundamental rights including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith worship and association. It calls for adequate provisions to safeguard the interests of minorities, backward and depressed classes. The Article 3 explicitly says, “The state shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle each according to his ability to each according to his work.”
Acknowledging the right of individuals to be dealt in accordance with law, the Constitution has a chapter on justiciable fundamental rights and another on well- elaborated Principles of Policy. During last 50-year, the chapter on Fundamental Rights has been amended six times and the 18th Amendment actually expanded the rights including; right to education, right to information and fair trial etc. According to Article 8- any law, custom or usage inconsistent to the enshrined fundamental rights will be void. Laws prior to 1973 were to be harmonized with guaranteed rights. In 2012, the National Commission on Human Rights was established through an Act of the Parliament to keep vigil in this regards. Regarding Principles of the Policy-the federal government and the provincial governments are required to present their annual reports before the respective assemblies.
Fundamental Rights in Constitution of 1973
The Chapter on Fundamental Rights includes 24 fundamental rights. However, in realization of these 24 rights there are 13 qualifies like: subject to law, subject to reasonable restriction imposed by law, and regulations prescribed by law.
- 05 protective rights: Article 8 bar to make any law that takes away these rights, Article 9 security of person, Article 10 safeguards as the arrest and detention, Article 10-A fair trial, and Article 28 Preservation of language, script and culture.
- 01 prohibitive right: Article 11 slavery, forced labour etc. prohibited.
- 05 safeguards: Article 12 protection against retrospective punishment except Article 6 (to be implemented from March 23, 1956), Article 13 Protection against double punishment and self-incrimination, Article 14 inviolability of dignity of man etc., Article 21 Safeguards against taxation for purposes of any particular religion, Article 22 Safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion etc.
- 06 enabling/entitlements: Article 15 Freedom of movement etc., Article 16 Freedom of Assembly, Article 17 Freedom of Association, Article 19 Freedom of speech etc. Article 19-A Right to Information, Article 25-A Right to education.
- 04 economic protections: Article 18 Freedom of Trade, business or profession, Article 23 Provision as to property, Article 24 Protection of property rights, Article 27 safeguard against discrimination in services.
- 01 about freedom of religion: Article 20 Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions and
- 02 affirmative declarations: Article 25 Equality of citizens, Article 26 Nondiscrimination in respect of access to public places.
Infrastructure: Rights Commissions
In 21st century with continuity in democracy, Pakistan has had significant legislative leaps and has created an infrastructure of civility in the form of Rights Commissions (National Commission for Human Rights, National Commission on Status of Women, National Child Rights Commission, and Right to Information Commissions etc.). Pakistan has also signed all major International Human Rights Conventions, Covenants and treaties and -I must say-proudly gone through Universal Periodic Reviews at UN Human Rights Council.
On the Golden Jubilee of the Constitution, we need to democratise our statues so that lingering colonial laws and ordinances promulgated during democratic disruptions do not eat away these rights. Millions of Pakistanis will be better off, if this citizen’s part of the Constitution is fully implemented. More and more citizens are talking about rights besides efforts to realise them-Pakistan is also confidently moving in this direction.
Our constitution too have been amended at least 22 times. Read your Constitution; understand your constitution, voice to implement it. It is the only way forward!
History of Constitution of 1973
On this occasion we need to revisit the history as well. The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 cobbled by the first directly elected members of the National Assembly based on adult franchise is a watershed moment in our history. The then National Assembly had 144 members from today’s Pakistan. During the process of constitution making we had ‘voice and vote’ of at least two members from the erstwhile East Pakistan, namely Noorul Amin and Raja Tridev Roy.
Out of these 146 members of the National Assembly, 25 assigned the task to draft the constitution represented diverse political parties and more importantly all federating units. In order to overcome roadblocks the magnanimous leadership representing all shades of opinion in that era inked the Constitutional Accord in October 1972. The Accord is the proverbial ‘basic structure’ of the constitution. After this public agreement amongst the mandate bearers in public-cum-political sphere, the Constitution Committee worked in camera and came up with the draft that after due debate, discussion, deliberations and unanimous vote of 125 became our social contract on April 10, 1973. On April 14, 1973 when Constitution assented 138 signed a copy of the Constitution to place it in the National Museum for posterity. Today it is on display in the National Assembly of Pakistan.
Here it is pertinent to mention that the opposition parties of the time had lot of political grievances and stories of sufferings-but they preferred the path of bestowing a consensus constitution. The similar trajectory adopted in 2010, at the time of authoring and adopting the historic 18th Constitutional Amendment garnered multi-party consensus.
If we look at the life span of the Constitution of 1973, the following picture emerge:
Historical pictures and data
While celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the Constitution, the National Assembly of Pakistan has honoured all unsung heroes who played pivotal parliamentary role. Their pictures are now part of the historicized walls of the parliament. Besides gratitude expressed in the Hall of the Assembly and their appreciations through billboards on the Constitution Avenue and in national media-is a moment of reclaiming the forgotten history.
Although the parliamentary debates during the process of constitution making are available in the published verbatim of the proceedings and on the website (www.na.gov.pk) of the National Assembly of Pakistan, honorable Speaker, Raja Pervez Ashraf made history by declassifying the in camera proceedings of the 25-member Constitution Committee during 1973. This is beginning of a new era to contextualize the actual soul and spirit of the Constitution and vision of its architects.
The modern day constitutions are not carved on the stone-rather they are living and breathing social contract. One can amend them through due process prescribed in the constitution. Our constitution too have been amended at least 22 times. Read your Constitution; understand your constitution, voice to implement it. It is the only way forward!