Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — due to step down on December 12 — spearheaded a legal movement that forced out a dictator and
established the independence of the judiciary for the first time in
But without further reforms, Pakistan's justice system will continue
to destabilize the nuclear-armed nation, the Geneva-based
International Commission of Jurists warned in a report.
"The Court has often garnered public acclaim for demanding
government accountability," the body said. But many felt "concerns
that the Court has sometimes exercised its original jurisdiction in
a political and partisan manner."
Vigilante justice and deadly feuds are still common in Pakistan and
few trust the courts to protect them. Police frequently execute
suspects because they fear the courts will free them. Bungled cases
are often blamed as the reason why dangerous militants go free.
Chaudhry helped restore some hope in the courts, the report said, by
intervening in individual cases, such as one where police did not
intervene in a lynching and another where paramilitary forces were
filmed executing a civilian.
"Officials who were responsible for the killing and who would have
otherwise escaped accountability were investigated and brought to
justice," the Commission said.
Such interventions have led to an explosion in the number of human
rights cases submitted to the court. In 2011, it received more than
150,000 petitions, compared to just 450 in 2004.
Sometimes important cases were ignored and some seemingly frivolous
ones taken up, the Commission said.
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"In some cases, the Supreme Court has acted swiftly ... facilitating
victims' right to remedy and reparation. In other instances,
however, the Court has not responded to urgent human rights issues,"
Chaudhry protected the rights of transsexuals but ignored attacks on
religious minorities, the report said.
He intervened in government decisions but was unable to punish a
single member of the powerful security agencies for the
disappearance, torture or killing of thousands of Pakistanis.
Although the court intervened in some murder cases, many were kicked
down to the lower courts — notorious for corruption and inefficiency — or opened, then simply shelved. Even cases in the Supreme Court
were often dealt with arbitrarily.
When five girls were allegedly killed for clapping to music in
Kohistan, in Pakistan's mountainous Khyber province bordering
Afghanistan, the court accepted a sloppy investigation that ignored
forensic evidence, despite repeated public appeals by one of the
"I hoped that things had changed and now the court would give
justice," said Afzal Kohistani, who petitioned for the Supreme Court
to intervene in the Kohistan case. "Now I have no hope because we
have been forgotten."
(Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)