The AHRC will soon publish an annual report on Pakistan for 2009. A prepublication report of the version can be downloaded at:
When we look at the extent of the suffering that Pakistanis have undergone in 2009, we are reminded that this is not a day for celebration, butone on which to press for serious change; for the legislation that has yet to be passed or put into practice. We are reminded of how far there is to go.
The human rights situation remains deplorable in Pakistan, even though the government has, through changes in law, made attempts to improve the situation.
On a positive note, the government has restored the
judiciary that was disbanded by General Musharraf in 2007, and it has proposed the release of the hundreds of political prisoners
languishing, rightless, in Balochistan. It has passed two bills
regarding the status of women. One is a women’s protection bill for
the prevention of domestic violence and the provision of aid and
services to its victims.
The second bill will allow harsher punishments for those who commit sexual harassment, and will expand the definition of the crime to facilitate prosecutions. However it is important to remember that while these changes in legislation are undoubtedly commendable, the true test lies in their application in
the everyday lives of Pakistani civilians, and their impact on the
attitudes and values on both government agents and people. Legislature is of no value if it does not impact the underlying issues which make for these problems.
The unbridled power of the military over the civilian establishment
has been a key feature in confronting challenges to the status quo,
and the continuing prevalence of brutality without redress in
Pakistani society and politics.
There had been hopes that following the ousting of Musharraf, the resulting democratic elections and the re-instatement of the judiciary, the human rights situation in the country would improve. The serious escalation of the conflict between state
and militant Islamic forces has given rise to one of the region’s –
and the world’s — most dangerous security and human rights
situations. Extremely high levels of violence and terrorism have been accompanied by political wrangling, and the continuing weakening of Pakistan’s civilian institutions and mechanisms of its rule of law.
The military operations in Balochistan and NWFP have been responsible for the extra-judicial killings of several hundred persons, including women and children. Disappearances
have become a popular way for state intelligence agencies to curb
voices of dissent.
A vast civilian challenge is to find the courage to tackle the military owned intelligence agencies for the recovery of such persons, or at least get information about them. The government has recovered just 20 persons out of hundreds who have been disappeared, and many cases point strongly to the involvement of state forces. The government itself has said this year that 1102 persons have been disappeared from a single province, Balochistan.
In November, a separate Human Rights Ministry was established and in April 2008, Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the UN Convention against Torture. However in May the government announced that Pakistan would accede to the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, but has not done so as yet. On 15
October, the cabinet approved a draft bill to set up a National Human Rights Commission but Parliament has not yet passed the bill as yet.
This International human rights day must be seen as one in which a new era of respect for personhood, for the fundamental importance of a strengthened humanity, is forged. The government must ratify and then thoroughly implement the core international human rights instruments.
Perhaps the most pressing concern in relation to this protection is the issue of torture. No serious effort has been made towards the elimination of torture in prisons, police stations and military interrogations, and it has become endemic in this society. Pakistan has signed CAT but never discussed these issues in a legal forum, including that of Parliament. The AHRC has pointed out that there are at least 52 torture cells run under the Pakistan Army in different cities. This statistic was collected from torture victims after their release. There is a strong need for Pakistan government to acknowledge this deplorable situation, wherein untried civilians are being mentally, emotionally and physically annihilated.
Immediate action must be taken to dismantle and rebuild the systems which have allowed for this to happen, which include, but are not limited to the corruption in the policing system.
The AHRC calls for the establishment of a credible, independent body to investigate claims of torture. All enquiries that are conducted should be transparent.
The AHRC urges that adequate measures are taken to ensure the
protection and safety of victims or witnesses who give evidence, and we call for investigation into claims of threats by governmental agents against witnesses or victims. Steps must be taken immediately to ensure appropriate legal sanctioning of the government agents responsible.
The government must also turn its attention to the pressing and
distressing situation on the rights of women.
Since corruption, negligence and the preference of personal gain over professional duty has become so deeply embedded into the justice system of Pakistan, it is clear that these systems of (in)justice must be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up in order to facilitate a new order, in which respect and dignity can be realized for all people in all sections of society.
The AHRC urges the government to realize that the situation of human rights violations cannot be improved until and unless the state intelligence agencies are put under civilian control, that in true meaning, are running their parallel government. The government should also disband all the torture cells run by the military and its intelligence agencies in the cantonment areas in the different parts of the country.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.