November 22, 2007 / 7:19 PM / 10 years ago

Pakistan must free judges before vote: U.N.

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Pakistan must reinstate all the judges dismissed under emergency rule or endure a “twisted form of democracy” where the judiciary is utterly subservient to the executive, UN human rights boss Louise Arbour said on Thursday.

Allies of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf are gearing up for an election on January 8 while his opponents are still undecided whether to boycott polls they say will not be free and fair under emergency rule, which was imposed on November 3.

Many judges and lawyers whose interpretation of the law posed the most serious challenge to Musharraf’s authority, remain under house arrest or in prison.

Earlier in the day the Supreme Court, now stacked with judges friendly to Musharraf, threw out the last challenge to his October 6 re-election and paved the way for him to quit as army chief.

Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a former prosecutor for international criminal tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda, said Pakistan faced a “terrible deficit in governance” without a free judiciary.

“It is not enough to move towards free and fair elections unless all the judges who were dismissed or suspended are fully reinstated in their previous capacity,” she told reporters in Dublin.

“Otherwise we will have a very twisted form of democracy where the judicial branch will have been made totally subservient to the executive,” she said on the sidelines of a human rights conference.

Musharraf faces the prospect of Pakistan’s second suspension from the Commonwealth since he took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, as he continues to resist calls to lift emergency rule.

The United States, while critical of his actions, has given him some leeway, as a crucial ally in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, to put things right before the election.

Arbour called on the Pakistani government to withdraw emergency rule as soon as possible and create “an atmosphere conducive to free and fair elections”.

Thousands of detainees were freed this week as Musharraf reacted to intense international and opposition pressure to scrap his measures.

Arbour said Hina Jilani, the U.N. secretary-general’s representative on the situation of human rights defenders, had traveled safely back to Pakistan and was not in custody. Jilani had been abroad when the emergency was imposed.

Last week Pakistani authorities freed Jilani’s sister Asma Jahangir, U.N. special investigator on freedom of religion or belief and chairwoman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, after nearly two weeks under house arrest.

Editing by Tim Pearce

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