July 2004 News

Fundamental rights: Supreme Court moved to decide NA status

8 July 2004
The Daily Times
Mohammad Kamran

Islamabad: An application has been made to the Supreme Court seeking the urgent hearing of a constitutional petition regarding the protection and enforcement of fundamental rights for the people of the Northern Areas.The Legislative Council election and the local bodies polls in the Northern Areas are scheduled for October 12 and 13 respectively. The petitioner wants the constitutional status of the Northern Areas and its residents decided before these elections. Dr Ghulam Abbas filed a petition in 1999 demanding fundamental rights for the residents of the Northern Areas as equal citizens of Pakistan. The petition has been pending since then. 'The Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and the Northern Areas has now announced the election schedule for the Legislative Council and local bodies. Justice demands that the constitutional petition be decided before these polls,' Dr Abbas said to Daily Times. The more than two million people of the Northern Areas have been without fundamental rights for the last 57 years, despite two Supreme Court rulings that they are equal citizens of Pakistan and guaranteed constitutional rights and access to justice, he said.On Thursday, the petitioner asked the court to take up the petition. 'We have filed multiple reminders for an early hearing, but our case is not being fixed for unspecified reasons,' said Dr Abbas.In the famous Al-Jehad Trust case, the Supreme Court ruled on May 28, 1999, that the people of the Northern Areas are citizens of Pakistan and have equal rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. The court gave the federal government six months to make legislation to this effect. The federal government then upgraded the Northern Areas Council into the Northern Areas Legislative Council and increased the number of its elected members from 24 to 29. However, the council has a limited mandate and can legislate only on 49 subjects, excluding fundamental rights. In another case, a full bench of the apex court ruled, 'There is no cavil to the proposition that the provision of Article 184 of the Constitution can be invoked by any citizen of Pakistan, including the people of the Northern Areas, in matters of public importance involving questions of fundamental rights.' The Supreme Court had also guaranteed right of access to an independent judiciary and right to be governed through chosen representatives to the people of the Northern Areas.The Chief Court of the Northern Areas was to be equated with a High Court and its jurisdiction was to be enlarged to allow it to entertain constitutional petitions for the enforcement of fundamental human rights. Currently, there are no appellate courts in the Northern Areas. The appeals of residents of the Northern Areas are not entertained by the Chief Court or the Supreme Court.


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