News / Asia

Pakistan's Highest Court Loses Independent Chief

Pakistani lawyers hold up a poster of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as they mark his retirement outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad, Dec. 11, 2013.
Pakistani lawyers hold up a poster of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as they mark his retirement outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad, Dec. 11, 2013.
Ayaz Gul
Pakistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry retired on Wednesday. The fiercely independent judge played a key role in establishing independence of the judiciary in Pakistan and led a nationwide legal movement that forced out a military ruler. But Chaudhry’s tenure was not free of controversies.

In 2007, Chaudry rose to prominence when he increasingly questioned attempts by then-president, General Pervez Musharraf, to cling to power.

The military ruler asked the judge to step down.  Chaudhry refused. That kind of defiance was unprecedented in Pakistan where the judiciary was long seen as pro-army.

Musharraf later fired him and hundreds of other judges by imposing a state of emergency. The controversial move triggered nationwide street protests.

The galvanized opposition led to the election defeat of Musharraf’s political allies, eventually forcing the once powerful military leader to step down and allowing the judges to return.

In a report this month, the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists said Chaudhry's tenure strengthened human rights in Pakistan. 

“An independent judiciary is crucial for human rights and there is no doubt that the Pakistan judiciary began to hold the executive branch in particular to account and for many Pakistanis the Supreme Court came to be seen as a beacon of hope for ending corruption and for imposing justice. No question about that,” said Sam Zarifi, regional director of the International Commission of Jurists. 

Under Chaudhry, the Supreme Court intervened in matters ranging from traffic regulations to civil service appointments and even questioned contracts between the government and foreign companies - one of the reasons experts cite for declining foreign investment in Pakistan.

And instead of reforming the judiciary, some critics say that Chaudhry ignored many human rights cases and focused only on high-profile ones. 

“The lawyers had hoped that they would come back as a reformed court with some humility and wisdom but we did not expect that they are going to come back to gain power," said Asma Jehangir, a senior attorney who took cases before the Supreme Court. "I think the courts are not there to show that they are powerful but they are effective. So, for us as lawyers we feel that many of our clients and litigants have not got justice because their cases have not been heard because the chief justice was too busy doing high visibility cases.”

Still the Supreme Court’s fight with the military and its intelligence agencies over rights abuses was widely praised. Pakistani security forces have been frequently accused of detaining suspects without charging them, citing a need to combat terrorism.

Under Chaudhry, the court consistently demanded the authorities reveal the whereabouts of hundreds of missing people who relatives allege were held by security personnel.

But court monitors like Zarifi say the court did not go far enough.

“While the court has been very effective and active in trying to set in place the identification of those subjected to enforced disappearances when it comes to actual accountability, the court has been very, very strangely reluctant. We still have not seen any members of the security forces held to account despite very clearly being implicated,” he said.

Chaudhry's designated successor, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, is described by legal observers as “a gentleman” and expect him to steer clear of intervening in government policy. But attorney Jehangir says that may not be easy.

“I am hoping that it will be better," she said. "There is a very thin line between justice through a process and rough and easy justice. Now he [Chaudhry] has left that taste of rough and easy justice in the public, which means that the judiciary that is going to succeed him will have a very tough time.”

Jillani will take the oath of office on Thursday.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs