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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults 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.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid