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 States Where Women Work for Free

Women earn less than men in all 50 states More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows Fight to Death Against IS

In wide-ranging interview, Fuad Masum describes new type of fight that will take time to win 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.
Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs