National Commission for Justice and Peace: Introduction
National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) was founded in 1985 by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops‟ Conference. NCJP has involved itself in advocacy of
human rights according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights beyond religious and other discriminations. It has six regional offices (Rawalpindi,
Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Hyderabad and Quetta) and the Head Office at Lahore.
For the first 13 years NCJP served under the compassionate and charismatic leadership of late Most Reverend John Joseph, the Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, who was its founder Chairperson. Fr. Bonnie Mendes served as the Executive Secretary till 1995, who was succeeded by Mr. Peter Jacob, the Executive Secretary at present.
From 1998 – 2001 Bishop Bonaventure Paul OFM, and Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf Mani
served as Chairpersons. At present NCJP is headed by His Grace, Lawrence John Saldanha, the Archbishop of Lahore as its Chairperson.
Since 1985 NCJP engaged itself in grass root activism and cadre development / mid level advocacy with opinion makers and top level national and international advocacy lobby activities. Here are some important aspects of this multi tier involvement;
I. Supporting victims of human rights violations
A large proportion of the activities of NCJP have been devoted to support of victims of human rights violations. Investigating and reporting of ongoing violations, assisting the victims in taking their cases to courts. Professional legal advice and representing victims in the judicial process and providing victims with counseling and rehabilitation support has been part and parcel of NCJP‟s work. (More in projects and programs)
II. Watch dog role to secure accountability on rights
Focusing accountability and respect for human rights / legal standards, NCJP has engaged in research based Publications e.g. Survey on working conditions of the agricultural labour (1999-2001), Effects of blasphemy laws (1995) and annual situational report of religious minorities since 1997. This involved advocating greater efforts by the State machinery to implement the international human rights obligatory under the UN Charter and through ratification of international treaties.
National Commission for Justice and Peace also takes a position on different human rights issues through press conferences and statements.
NCJP also lead a few country wide campaigns of mass awareness. The Commission recorded its point of view before; the Judicial Inquiry investigating the carnage of Khanewal / Shantinagar in 1997 and National Reconstruction Bureau panel on need for restoration of joint electorate in 2001.
NCJP has collected authentic data on various issues, especially on the victimization under the blasphemy laws for a number of years.
III. Supporting better governance and government policy
NCJP has been encouraging Governments to fulfill its obligations for protection of minorities for example by publicizing annual situational report on religious minorities (Human Rights Monitor) since 1997. Information about the implementation of human rights standards by the Government is also assessed in this report.
Good governance, democratization and ending the abuse of power; are a focus of advocacy in the Democratic Education Program of NCJP since 2003, which involves citizenship and voters training, mobilization for participation in the Census, etc. (More information in Projects and
IV. Contribution to the implementation of human rights treaties
NCJP contributes by demands for the implementation of international human rights treaties through awareness and advocacy initiatives in the country, participating in Commission on Human Rights (till 2005), Human Rights Council and various other UN forums. NCJP prepared the first ever Shadow report from Pakistani civil society for UN CEDAW Committee in 2007, the NGOs report under the Universal Periodic Review for UN Human Rights Council in 2008 and a Shadow report under the ICERD in 2009.
The demand for ratification of human rights treaties and their compliance has been one of the key recommendations at the local forums since many years.
Projects and Programs:
1) Legal – Para legal Aid Program:
Though formally started in 1995, legal and para legal aid is one of the earliest engagements of NCJP and became a foundation for all activities that followed. The primary objective of the program is to create models of resistance to
injustices through optimizing the existing remedies through litigation and appeals to the authorities. Under the legal aid program, the Commission provides lawyers, legal counseling, and rehabilitation assistance to about 120 cases every year. These cases are selected through a scrutiny and verification process.
2) Human Rights Education and Activists Training (HEAT) Program: HEAT training
workshops began in 1997 focusing the human rights concepts, fact-finding and reporting skills. A batch of 30 participants is involved in two workshops with a gap of six months, allowing time for the trainees to practice what they learn during the workshop. 634 men and women have gone through this training process. The trainees become part of the organization‟s volunteer groups as they become
familiar with human rights approaches and advocacy work.
The activists report human rights abuses in their respective areas to one of Commission‟s regional or national office, who select cases for legal aid, appeals
to relevant authorities and reporting in the studies on the human rights situation. These activists belong to various religious communities (Muslim, Christian and Hindu) and hail from different cities and villages in Pakistan.
In 2009 some changes have been introduced after an evaluation to enhance the effectiveness of the HEAT.
3) Democratic Education Program: Following the successful campaign for Joint
Electorate in 200-2001, this was started in 2003 and is designed to continue till 2010. The program aims to bring discussion on democratic values and principles at mid and grass roots level for more positive and active role on part of the common people in the political process of the country.
The Democratic Education Program involves at least 210 volunteers in 44 districts in organizing and conducting corner meetings, training workshops & seminars in all four provinces. The program also provides an opportunity to the volunteers to interact with policy makers at district level and with the parliamentarians of their respective constituencies. This program brings about 5-6 thousand people in serious interaction on the issues of democratic governance annually.
4) Community Education for Human Rights Program: (CEHR) was initiated in 2005
by the Commission. The program focused enhancing know-how regarding human rights to 28 communities from three (Punjab, Sindh & NWFP) of Pakistan through training workshops, Peoples‟ forms & meetings.
This program has brought some wonderful results as the concerned communities have shown interest in solving their problems after their interaction in CEHR workshop concerning civic facilities, systematic abuses of rights and functioning of the institutions meant to provide facilities. These communities have solved some issues e. g. NADRA office (Tando Muhammad Khan), portable water (Multan), sanitation and sewerage (Hyderabad), construction of road (Vehari).
5) Peace Education Program. A two years program (2008-2010) was started to
focus themes around peace and non-violence after a Pilot project in three cities of Pakistan (Lahore, Rawalpindi and Gujranwala) in 2005. The project provides for activities in 16 districts in NWFP, Punjab and Sindh around promotion of peace and tolerance through its activities including training workshops, art competitions at high school level, theater performance for selected communities, seminars and public discussions in the target districts.
The first advocacy initiative by NCJP was against bonded labour in brick
kiln factories in 1987. When some families were thrown out of their homes
by the factory owner at Kad Lathi (Sheikhupura) during chilling winter, Bishop John Joseph spent the night with the labour families. NCJP also joined other activities and organizations working against bonded labour in several districts of Punjab. This struggle achieved some successes during this period in terms of recognition of the problems and legal safeguards against the exploitation through extending loans, etc.
In the later years the Commission concentrated on bonded labour in agricultural sector. In Hyderabad, NCJP worked closely with late Mr. Shakeel Ahmad Pathan, Coordinator HRCP Task Force in rehabilitation of freed bonded agricultural labourers. Opening of a first camp at Matli was the result of this cooperation. This camp run by Catholic Church functioned as temporary shelter for the former bonded labourers from all over Sindh for seven years.
NCJP also conducted an extensive study on the “working Conditions of
Agricultural Labour in Punjab” during 1999-2001. This was a pioneering
study in this area.
NCJP in its role as an advocacy organization responded to induction of the discriminatory laws and state policies. In 1988, Bishop John Joseph filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan raising objections to apartheid system of Separate Electorate in the country.
Since 1990 Commission has engaged in raising awareness against abuse of law and religion under the so called blasphemy provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code (295 B, C, 298, A, B, and C). The Commission has also helped litigations against Muslim, Christian and Hindu victims of blasphemy. NCJP has campaigned for repeal of blasphemy laws a standpoint that Bishop John Joseph ultimately laid down his life for.
In 1992 when the government tried to include a column for religion in
National Identity Card, the civil society in Pakistan organized a
countrywide campaign under the leadership of NCJP‟s Chairperson
Bishop John Joseph. The campaign was successful and the government
was forced to withdraw this move.
Around the local bodies election in the year 2000-2001 NCJP led a
countrywide and extensive campaign for abolition of separate
electorates, involving appeals, mobilization through collecting signatures,
media lobbing, hunger strikes, seminars, etc. Ultimately a boycott by the
religious minorities convinced the government to accept this demand.
The joint electorate system was restored in January 2002.
In 2001 NCJP was given an International Human Rights award by The Tji-
Hak-Soon Foundation of South Korea for its services in promotion and
defense of human rights.
United Nations based Advocacy
The Commission started using the UN mechanisms of human rights in 1999.
It made written and oral interventions through Pax Romana, Franciscan
International and Dominicans at the Commission and Sub-Commission
and Working Group on Minorities. NCJP is among the two organizations
from Pakistan, which made use of Procedure 1503 for defense of Human
Rights in the past two decades.
In 2005 a special communication was sent to the Special Rapporteur on
education on „Right to Education in Pakistan‟. In 2006 a communication
was sent to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, „Violence
Against Women in Pakistan‟. In 2007 another communication regarding
religious biases in curriculum and education policy in Pakistan was sent to
the Special Rapporteur on Right to Education, on freedom of religion or
belief and Independent Expert on minority issues.
NCJP prepared the CEDAW shadow report and presented to its
thcommittee during its 38 session at New York in May 2007. The
representative of the organization also participated in the session.
In February 2008 the organization presented the Universal periodic Review
(UPR) report at OHCHR to be considered during the second session of UPR
at Human Rights Council. NCJP organized a delegation from Pakistani
NGOs to participate in the UPR session. (Pakistan was under review during
the second session of UPR).
NCJP took an active part in research and presentation of an alternative
report on behalf of the Civil Society in Pakistan on CERD Review in 2009.
NCJP has organized several Training workshops since 2002 on “UN Human
Rights Mechanisms” for NGOs workers, meant to encourage human rights NGOs, to use the UN mechanisms for promotion and protection of human
rights. These training workshops brought one of the best international and
local experts on the UN Human right Mechanism together as trainers.
Regional and International Networking
NCJP is part of coalitions like Joint Action Committee for People Rights,
Lahore, National Coalition Against Bonded Labour and broad based
forum e. g. Pakistan – India People‟s Forum for Peace and Democracy.
NCJP is a founding member of the Pakistan Support Group (PSG) which is
a network of the International NGO‟s who have worked together on issues
concerning Pakistan. Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, Chairperson
of NCJP and President of Pakistan Catholic Bishop‟s Conference
participated in the first meeting about formation of PSG in 2003 at
Geneva. This group has met annually with active facilitation by Justice
and Peace Commission-Netherlands to coordinate and plan interventions
using UN mechanisms.
NCJP is also an active part of regional networks e. g. Forum Asia, Solidarity
for Asian Peoples advocacy (SAPA) and Asia Pacific Justice and Peace