Round-Table on Pakistani Constitutionalism Today and Human Rights for MPs and Parliamentary Researchers with Dr. Paula Newberg.

  • An interactive session was held at the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services on constitutionalism and human rights for select group of MPs and parliamentary researchers working for individual MPs and parliamentary committees. Dr. Paula Newberg, an international expert on human rights and democracy, was the guest speaker, who conducted an absorbing session. Honourable Senator Rubina Khalid and Honourable MNA Aasiya Nasir, Professor at Western Michigan University Mahendra Lawoti, researchers from the National Assembly of Pakistan, and officers and YPSEs from research and legislation wings of PIPS also deliberated on the topic. It was held under the auspices of Committee Technical Support programme of the PIPS Research and IT wing in collaboration with Director American Institute of Pakistan Studies Nadeem Akbar, Advisor American Institute of Pakistan Studies Shehzad Iqbal, National Coordinator Inter University Consortium Murtaza Noor.The session started with recitation of the Holy Quran and participants introductions and expectations followed by the welcome remarks by Executive Director PIPS, Mr. Zafarullah Khan. The discussion began with Dr. Newberg inquiring the participants as to the topics they would like to be addressed, to which the participants replied with a variety of discourse subjects regarding human rights and constitutionalism in Pakistan.Dr. Newberg followed up by stating that while the experience of the US may not be as valuable in the context of Pakistan, we must ponder over what it means to have rights in our constitution which is a liberty not enjoyed by the US; all rights stated in the constitution of the US were amendments to the original US constitution. She further mentioned that the rights portion of the constitution is fundamental as it is constantly coloring its other aspects.Dr. Newberg highlighted two basic components of human rights. Firstly, she stated that human rights cannot flourish in a place without protected freedom of expression: “without freedom of expression everything else becomes negotiable.” She further said that freedom of speech and expression forms the basic democratic foundation upon which other mechanisms are built. Secondly, according to her the way in which the state understands itself is significant. She said that parliament is a process and its role is to reflect the will of the people and that their voice is heard and continues to be heard. According to Dr. Newberg politicians must perceive human rights as the rationale to politics in order to ensure that democracy delivers.Honourable Senator Rubina Khalid commented that while we have a clear idea of what our rights are we have no idea of our duties as citizens. Dr. Newberg added that rights go hands in hand with responsibilities.  Honourable MNA Aasiya Nasir commented on certain contradictory aspects of the constitution, saying that while giving rights to some people we take away rights from others as exemplified by the blasphemy laws.Executive Director PIPS, Mr. Zafarullah Khan commented that one of the issues regarding the implementation of human rights in Pakistan is that we live in a post-colonial state, where many of our laws are still from the British era making us subjects in the legal context. Towards the end of the session, Mr. Zaka commented that the hope lies with the Parliament; ensuring its development will allow us to ensure the implementation of human rights as we have already witnessed all provincial assemblies ensuring a 14% rise in budget spending on education and human development. He stressed need to focus vision of Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and forefathers who promised protection and well being of all citizens as well as socio-political and cultural rights of all minorities in the 1940 Pakistan Resolution.Dr. Newberg ended the discussion by stating that part of understanding the state is how we understand our role as citizens. It is important to consider what we think our constitution is for and how we want to be thought of as in promoting human rights in our politics. She added that we must recognize our difference of opinion in order to fix our issues. She also acknowledged that USThe session was concluded with Hon Senator Rubina Khalid and Hon MNA Aasiya Nasir presenting Dr. Newberg with PIPS’ shield of gratitude. Executive Director Mr zafarullah Khan thanked all participants for such a health dialogue in the Round Table.

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