ISLAMABAD: The Law Ministry in November 2016 already conveyed to the Presidency and the ministries of interior and inter-provincial coordination that “Student unions stand restored”
Although, the Senate recently adopted a resolution urging the government to revive student unions in the educational institutions, the Law Ministry had already recommended restoring the student unions.
Besides responding to the Presidency, the Law Ministry had sent all relevant documents along with its opinion to the Interior Ministry and the IPC Division for necessary follow-up actions. However, nothing has been done as yet in this respect by any of these ministries.
Documents show that the President of Pakistan had received a petition from the Asian Human Rights Commission seeking the restoration of student unions immediately in order to check violence in the educational institutions.
In its request to the president, the AHRC underlined that in civilised world, student unions serve as training ground for future leaders in the national political scene. These unions provide an entry point for the middle class youth into politics, in a system otherwise controlled by landowners, industrialists, and the moneyed class. Elimination of these platforms robbed the country of the potential talents of these young people.
The AHRC added that student unions had earlier provided opportunities for various extra-curricular activities, strengthened democratic values, and helped students become well versed in socio-economic and socio-political issues of the society. It said many student unions remained active participants in the country’s affairs even if not active participants in politics. Lack of unions since the banning, the AHRC said, had depoliticised the students leading to their complete disassociation from the country’s affairs.
The commission sought from the president, “…..to restore the student unions immediately so that violence from the educational institutions is eliminated realising state’s responsibility to provide a peaceful environment for students to engage in their educational and extra curriculum activities.”
The Presidency on Oct 27, 2016 referred the matter to the Law Ministry with the direction, “The matter may please be looked into for action within the ambit of law, subject to rules, regulations, policy and strictly on merit under intimation to the Secretariat at the earliest.”
The Law Ministry in its opinion said the Constitution allows freedom of association vide Article 17 which says that every citizen shall have right to form association or union subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order or morality. Therefore, any vestige of Martial Law does not hold the field as the Constitution is the supreme law and any other law which takes away or abridges the fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution, to the extent of inconsistency, is void as provided in Article 8 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Therefore, it can be concluded that the student unions stand restored.
Of late, the Senate adopted a resolution urging the government to revive student unions in the educational institutions of Islamabad Capital Territory with a code of conduct in place. The resolution stressed that the code should provide a mechanism for ensuring zero tolerance for violent activities.
Keeping in view that this was a provincial subject, the House had also recommended to the provincial governments to review student unions in the educational institutions and regulate the same in order to ensure zero tolerance for violent activities.
Student unions were banned during Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime. The order was rescinded by late Benazir Bhutto in 1988; however, in 1993, the Supreme Court imposed a ban on unions on the grounds that they contribute to violence on campuses.