Universal human rights can only be protected and promoted when the voices that struggle for this cause remain free from defects and compromises. Justice in cases of human rights abuses, moreover, can only be served if human rights violations are impartially investigated. For national human rights institutions (NHRIs), it is important to follow the Paris Principles of December 1993 which make it mandatory that NHRIs be powerful, independent and impartial. This is because without impartial and powerful human rights watchdogs, the cause for human rights can never truly succeed. Activists believe that human rights can only be guaranteed when the state makes a conscious effort to stop human rights violations. Similarly, human rights violations will not stop until these violations are properly investigated, and the perpetrators are brought to justice. It remains a fact that our law enforcement agencies face various challenges in investigating different crimes, especially when the accused are powerful and influential people. Moreover, perhaps it remains impracticable to investigate human rights violations since perpetrators are usually officials working on the state’s behalf, while investigators have little or highly circumscribed powers. The recent extra-judicial murder of Naqeebullah Mehsud is an example that highlights the challenges that exist in investigating human rights violations in Pakistan. Similarly, how can we ignore allegations that hundreds of people have been extra-judicially killed in Karachi alone? The situation in FATA and KP, moreover, might turn out to be even more frightening if properly investigated. After a significant struggle, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) was finally established in 2012, but was plagued by a legal limitation on its mandate right from its inception. Contrary to the international norms NHRIs follow, the NCHR’s sections 14 and 15impose a limit on investigating cases of human rights violations where officials of the armed forces or intelligence agencies are involved. Hence, the NCHR’s ability to peruse cases of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial execution and custodial torture becomes highly questionable considering these limitations on its mandate. The provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) also established the KP Human Rights Directorate in 2014.This directorate too, however, lacks essential powers and the resources necessary to achieve its objectives. The Directorate enjoys the power to initiate an inquiry into human rights violations on paper, but in reality lacks the authority to summon a person and record his or her statement. The KP Human Rights Directorate is also run by a director who is a civil servant answerable to the provincial government. This again raises skepticism over the organisation’s impartiality. Without adequately trained officers that have sufficient experience in human rights, moreover, the Directorate cannot achieve its objectives. Perhaps it remains impracticable to investigate human rights violations since perpetrators are usually officials working on the state’s behalf, while investigators have little or highly circumscribed powers During the third review of the UPR, furthermore, Pakistan once again accepted various recommendations including specifically criminalising ‘enforced disappearances’ and strengthening the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CoIoED). The ground realities, sadly, remain very different. For instance, since its inception, the CoIoED has received 4804 cases of missing persons, in which it has disposed of 3164 different cases. Ironically, there is no information on how many perpetrators were brought to justice or how many of the accused faced criminal proceedings. Pakistan has also continued to clamour for strengthening the CoIoED at various international forums, but in the absence of a powerful mandate, financial freedom and government support, the Commission has failed to achieve its goals. Perhaps this failure stems from the fact that these perpetrators enjoy legal and procedural impunity, which makes the CoIoED seem impotent to bring them to justice. Considering they are classified as crimes against humanity, enforced disappearances and incommunicado and unacknowledged detentions ought to be properly investigated and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. This is, however, only possible if the CoIoED is strengthened. Researchers believe that many criminal laws in Pakistan, especially the ones related to counter-terrorism confer nigh unlimited, unchecked and unrestricted powers to officials of law enforcement agencies who commit acts in good faith. How are these powers regulated? What are the mechanisms available to human rights institutions to check the misuse of these laws? It is essential to check and curb the misuse of laws to prevent extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other significant human rights violations. In addition to the above issue, Pakistani laws are also not yet compatible with the international human rights instruments the country has ratified. For instance, torture has not yet been made a distinct crime, while extra-judicial executions are treated as cases of murder, and enforced disappearances are treated as an ordinary crime of abduction under the PPC. In the absence of financial and institutional freedom, human rights institutions have so far failed to scrutinise national laws in order to make them compatible with international human rights law. Federal and provincial governments in Pakistan must strengthen the powers of human rights institutions that allow them to investigate any form of human rights violation. Moreover, there is a dire need to look into the overlapping mandates of these organisations. These watchdogs should be given as broad a mandate as possible and they should have unrestricted powers that allow them to inquire and investigate any human rights violation irrespective of the perpetrator’s rank and departmental affiliation. This is necessary to achieve the cause of protecting human rights. The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer. He tweets at s_irshadahmad and can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, May 18th 2018.