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Apex court takes up Kohistan ‘killing’ case

Ayesha Shahid

ISLAMABAD: With sensational media reports making the rounds about four women having been killed in Kohistan after videos were leaked of them dancing with two men during wedding festivities, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the case on Monday and ordered the officials concerned to provide more information about the issue.

Right now the tragedy is marred with uncertainty as reports create confusion over whether the news about the murders having taken place on May 30 is correct.

Therefore, when a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khwaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain sat down to hear the case, the chief justice’s first question to Attorney General Irfan Qadir was that if the four women had indeed been murdered.

The chief justice observed that such an act would be a direct violation of Article 9 (right to life) and Article 14 (right to dignity) of the Constitution. He said he wondered how a jirga could have taken such a decision when “we have held jirgas unconstitutional and illegal”.

The court is already seized with a petition of the National Commission for the Status of Women (NCSW) which asks for jirgas to be declared illegal because it is a parallel and unregulated justice system.

In March, the court had ordered provincial chief ministers, secretaries and inspectors general of police to ensure that the practice of exchanging girls and women to settle disputes through jirga was stopped.

Ms Riffat Butt, legal expert at the NCSW, said: “The previous orders of the court against jirgas were specifically with regard to anti-women practices like Vani and Swara i.e. they addressed the outcomes.

“We are making the case that jirgas should be completely declared illegal; if jirgas are not held at all such sorts of decisions cannot be taken. And at many different occasions different courts in their orders have declared that jirgas are against constitutional norms.”

In this context, the case of Kohistan women killings becomes especially relevant to the Supreme Court hearing of the NCSW petition which will be held on Wednesday — the day the attorney general is required to interview and produce the four women before the court since Hazara division officials have denied the killing or the fact that a jirga had ever been held to take a decision about the fate of the women.

The chief justice also ordered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Secretary Ghulam Dastgir, the Hazara regional commissioner and Kohistan DPO to submit comprehensive reports on the issue by June 6. The hearing will be crucial in determining truth about the incident.

However, if it turns out that the jirga had taken a decision to kill the women and men this would certainly strengthen the case of NCSW for banning jirgas throughout the country.

“Whether the women have been killed or not, the fact that a jirga has taken such a decision shows that such incidents are not only happening regularly, but they are also taking extreme forms. This is a fundamental violation of human rights and the federal and provincial governments need to make legislations on the issue,” Riffat Butt said.