Pakistan is a signatory to several international human rights conventions. The country has in its constitution a good set of fundamental rights. Yet, the human rights situation in Pakistan is deteriorating. All human rights are violated in Pakistan with impunity.
Rights of women and children; access to justice; labour rights; rights to: housing, life and fair trial, education, safe drinking water, freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of movement are all negated systematically in the country. Lack of independence of the judiciary and a weak criminal justice framework are the hallmarks of Pakistan’s justice delivery process.
Minorities in Pakistan are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. Extremist organisations sharing centre stage with political parties at the political front has made matters worse for the vulnerable factions of the society who find no protection from the state or the judiciary.
The country is stumbling from increasing incidents of terrorism. In 2017 serious threats to human rights were due to terrorism, extrajudicial and targeted executions, forced disappearances, and torture. This has affected citizens across the country.
Pakistan tried to avoid international scrutiny during its last concluded UPR at the UN Human Rights Council. The state of Pakistan continues to condone enforced disappearances, has failed to criminalise custodial torture, ignores and fails to take affirmative actions to end mass lynching and promotes blasphemy laws.
Pakistan is ranked the fourth worst country for women according to recently released ranking by the Women, Peace and Security Index . Of the 153 countries assessed for their sensitivity of women’s rights for justice and security, Pakistan is ranked 150. The country is highlighted as entertaining the highest forms of discrimination against women in the world and the lowest for financial inclusion favouring women.
Pakistan’s ranking presents a bleak picture of the modest progress made on female empowerment and gender equality. The narrative of women’s empowerment is an exercise in futility within the patriarchal culture of honor killings, female infanticide, rape and violence. Given this reality, achieving the targets set for gender equality and empowerment of women by the Sustainable Development Goals remains a distant dream.
Honor killing is a barbaric custom that has claimed many innocent lives in the country according to the UNICEF. The National Report titled, Situation Analysis of Women and Children in Pakistan, affirms that almost 25 percent of the total honor killings in the world occur in Pakistan.
In August, Bahkt Jan, and Ghani Rehman, two minors aged 15 and 17 respectively, were electrocuted by their family members on the order of a tribal council in Karachi that ruled that the “young couple’s” decision to elope violated family honor. Also in August, a man in Lahore decapitated his wife for refusing to quit her job as a factory worker. In June, a tribal council in Khyber agency ordered the honor killing of Naghma , a 13-year-old girl who was accused of “running away” with men. She was subsequently rescued by security forces and released into the custody of relatives, who later murdered her.
Despite the enactment of several laws, women in Pakistan continue to suffer from state neglect and apathy. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, Pakistan has been ranked the second-worst country in the world for gender inequality for the third consecutive year. Pakistan is also the worst performing state in South Asia and has been so for the last couple of years. The report states that gender parity in terms of health education, economic opportunity, and political empowerment has been deteriorating. Pakistan’s ranking in the Economic Participation and Opportunity and Education Attainment indexes concerning women has not changed since 2015.
The International Trade Union Confederation – a confederation of national trade union centers – has listed Pakistan under the list of countries where the rights of laborers are not guaranteed. Given the lack of any basic medical care, health facilities, affordable housing, universal education, clean drinking water and a decent way of life including the right to life this position is not surprising.
Brick kiln workers and laborers working in the ship-breaking industry, hazardous working conditions go unchecked. Hiring underage workers is a crime under the law, yet one can find children working in severely hazardous industries including mills. No mill owner is ever penalized for the offence.
Domestic child labour is one of the most common forms of child labour in Pakistan. Torture and murder of children by the employers are not rare. The marginalized and abused labours are forced to a hand to mouth existence due to inadequate government policies, landed aristocracy and their absolute control over resources.
Pakistan ranks third in the Global Slavery Index. Bonded labour is most common in the brick kiln sector, with the majority of kilns in Punjab and Sindh provinces. The government has a limited response to modern slavery. State support is largely limited to basic victim support services. A poor criminal justice framework, limited coordination or collaboration between state agencies, widespread corruption and poverty reinforced political, social and economic structures contributes to the continuation of modern slavery in Pakistan.
Around 2.3 million brick kiln workers all over Punjab are victims of the bonded labor system. They are denied basic fundamental rights, including social security and statutory minimum wages i.e. Rs. 740 per 1000 raw bricks made. Workers are paid only Rs. 400 per 1000 raw bricks. Peasants and brick kiln workers are often forced to mortgage their children to the land owners and employers in exchange for a few thousand rupees of loan.
Workers struggle to end the bonded labour system, to ensure social security, fair wages, and a decent work environment. Those who demand these face death threats.
The AHRC has reported incidents where high-ranking police officers have been operating brick kilns and keeping their workers in private torture cells. Landlords, particularly from Punjab and Sindh provinces, affiliated with political parties, employ bonded labour and are protected by the state. They use their political, social and economic influence to continue this practice.
The children of laborers are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty from which they can never escape. Pakistan has been ranked third in the world for having the largest child workforce. According to statistics by the International Labour Organization’s report for the year 2014, a decline has been observed throughout the world in the number of underage workers. Yet, Pakistan remains in the third place with the highest prevalence of child and forced labour.
The case of Tayyaba, a child maid is an example. She was brutally tortured by her employer, the wife of a Magistrate. Labour laws in Pakistan are ineffective and inefficient in curbing the practice of child labor. When a judicial officer is himself abetting child labour by hiring an underage girl child as a domestic helper, how can one expect the general public to be any different?
Taking advantage of poverty, influential persons get away even with murder, by paying the aggrieved family blood/hush-up money. The practice of paying blood/hush-up money as compensation to the underage maid is fairly common in Punjab where most of the cases of abuse of domestic servants occur. Urban areas are particularly notorious for the practice.
The families of the victim are too poor to take the employer to court. As a result, in almost all cases of abuse, the abuser is “pardoned” by the victims or their parents. Having many mouths to feed, the family often forces the victim to continue working at the house of the abuser.
To counter the violence and abuse of the labour force in the country, the government should formulate and implement labour laws on a par with international standards and laws. Stringent and coherent policies should be enacted and implemented to make the working environment safer for labourers.
State of children
Despite the constitutional obligation, pronounced in the policy principles, Pakistan is ignoring its duty of care for 53 percent of its population below the age of 18. In the Children’s Right Index, Pakistan with the fifth largest population of persons under the age of 18, ranks 159 out of 196 states/territories of the world in terms of child mortality, health and education facilities and protection of rights of the child. Poverty is a contributing factor for the material, spiritual, and emotional deprivation faced early on by the children from impoverished families in the country.
The plight of child domestic workers is alarming in all four provinces in the country, and cases of torture are often noticed in the upper segments of society, where the children are often coerced into working against their wishes. The perpetrators are often highly educated and financially affluent. Each year many cases of domestic worker’s abuse are reported in the media where an underage child worker is beaten to death or is injured.
Exacerbating the situation of child labour, the power to legislate a child protection law is handed over to the provinces. This has left Pakistan’s National Child Protection Policy in doldrums. The Committee on the Rights of the Child in its general comment No. 5/2003, has clearly stated that “decentralization of power, through devolution and delegation of government, does not in any way reduce the direct responsibility of the state party’s government to fulfil its obligations to all children within its jurisdiction, regardless of the state structure”. The situation has not changed.
Sexual abuse of children is also rampant. According to media reports, from January to June 2017, as many as 1764 children were sexually abused in Pakistan. It means that approximately 10 children are raped each day in Pakistan.
The disturbing incidents of child sexual abuse have not decreased; rather they are increasing in frequency. For instance, on October 31, 2017 a 16-year girl was paraded naked on the orders of the Jirga in DI Khan Area of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwaprovince. She was made to suffer this torture as “punishment” – because her brother had been in a relationship with a girl.
During the second UPR on Pakistan, there was an overwhelming call for Pakistan to expedite the legislative process to curb torture and other ill treatment. Seven countries called for the ratification of UNCAT by Pakistan. However, the government and policy makers continue to hoodwink the international community on the question of torture.
The government has stated before the UN CAT Committee that it does not intend to legislate against torture and ill-treatment. On May 13, 2017 during the UN CAT Committee’s review of Pakistan, the country argued that its existing legal framework is in line with the provisions of the UNCAT. The state report, submitted five years late, claimed that torture is prohibited and prevented, with allegations of abuse effectively investigated and prosecuted.
Detailed discussions were held on the different reports of prevalence of torture in the country. On May 12, the United Nations panel condemned the “widespread practice of torture” in Pakistan by police, the military, and the intelligence agencies. It called on Islamabad to implement urgent reforms.
Police custody – legally the custody of a person by the state – should constitutionally and ideally be the safest place for individuals. Yet in Pakistan, it is the most dangerous place to be. Deprived of all constitutional rights, the accused is at the mercy of the captors. Political interests and personnel vendettas often contribute to torture of detainees. The purpose of torture is therefore not only obtaining information, but inculcating fear.
Death in custody is a common occurrence inside detention centres. Sindh Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. Nisar Ahmad Khuhro, recently informed the Sindh Assembly that as many as 104 prisoners have died in different Sindh jails in the past three years. The high number of deaths is attributed to natural causes. However, the fact remains that the inhuman conditions prevalent in detention centres tantamount to torture, causing inmates to die in large numbers.
As per media reports 44 inmates have been hanged since January 2017 in the country. Punjab has emerged as a major practitioner of the death penalty, accounting for 83 percent of the executions, and 89 percent of death sentences in Pakistan.
Pakistan has ratified the ICCPR and the CAT in 2010, and has pledged on many occasions that domestic laws will be amended to meet obligations under international law. However, since ratification no law has been changed or drafted. Instead, Pakistan has blatantly violated Article 6 of the ICCPR by withdrawing the moratorium on executions since 2015.
Since 2015 the state has executed 433 prisoners, with about 8,000 prisoners remaining in death row. They are set to be executed in the coming years. The moratorium on executions was lifted with the excuse of eliminating terrorism in the wake of the killings of 149 school children. However, a large number of those executed are not convicted for terror related offences, and have been denied a fair trial before the execution of capital sentence.
Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions
Disappearance has been going on incessantly for the past two decades. To make matters worse the LEA officials have now adopted the tactics of picking up and disappearing innocent women and children of the person they suspect.
Recently the wife and the 4-year-old daughter of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch – the Chairperson of the Baloch Students’ Organization and the chief of the BalouchLiberation Front were picked up by the state agency to pressurize Dr. Baloch to surrender. Due to external pressure and the civil society, the agencies released the mother and her daughter.
The Baloch women have taken up a firm stance in the protest against the enforced disappearances of their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Resultantly the LEA agencies have now started disappearing the women and their children to silence the protest. Though Dr. Baloch’s wife and daughter were released, many other Baloch women are not as fortunate. Their whereabouts remain unknown even after several years.
No real statistics about the disappeared persons are not available in Pakistan. However, civil society groups working on the disappearances by gathering information from the family members of the disappeared persons claim thousands of persons have disappeared in Pakistan since the war against terrorism has started. The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons claims that in Balochistan province, during the past 15 years more than 16000 persons are missing since the military started its operation.
A recent trend in disappearances involves minors. The AHRC has reported and documented two cases of enforced disappearances of minors in 2017. According to the list of missing persons, prepared by the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), among those documented as missing, 170 are children and/or women.
In Sindh province, the military and paramilitary forces are conducting operations against mostly political workers and the nationalists. Many Sindhi nationalists have suffered inhuman torture and were killed in custody. For instance, on 18 July 2017 the AHRC reported the disappearance of the nephew of Mr. Muzaffar Bhutto, a prominent nationalist leader who was extra-judicially killed in custody.
Bhutto disappeared for almost for 14 months. After his release, he informed the media and the court that he was kept in a military torture cell at Hyderabad, in Sindh cantonment area. He was severely tortured. He was not able to walk properly as his spine was injured from torture and he had to undergo two operations. He told the Court that he was tortured by officials of the Inter ServicesIntelligence. They wanted him to confess that he and his group were running the Sindh Liberation Army, which had close links with Baloch Liberation Army and were involved in sabotage activities in Sindh Province. Mr. Bhutto again disappeared after his arrest by law enforcement agencies on 25 February 2011.
The government of Pakistan must:
Ratify without delay International Convention against for the protection of all persons from Enforced Disappearance without any reservation. Criminalise enforced disappearance under domestic law,
Immediately place a moratorium on the death penalty, and release all inmates who have served out more time in jail than the prescribed penalty for their alleged crime. Roll back the Military Courts that have already completed their mandate of two years and the Sunset Clause that has become operational.
Abolish the child labour and bonded labour immediately from the country. Eradicate contract system and implement labour laws in every work place.
Provide protection to human rights defenders in the country. The government must release and recover the human rights defenders who have been disappeared after their arrests by law enforcement agencies.
Stop the forced conversion to Islam, provide protection to religious minorities. Uphold and adhere to the Protection of Minorities Bill. The government must not succumb to the demands of hardline extremist groups and the Military to implement fundamental Islamic laws.
Denounce publicly the sexual and physical abuse of the women by state agents, to put an end to impunity for crimes of custodial violence against women and to guarantee women equality before and equal protection of the law. It is incumbent upon the state being the guardian of the downtrodden and underprivileged, to guard the interests of these vulnerable groups and ensuring their rights are not infringed upon by the powerful and mighty.