PAKISTAN: The government dodges the international community on civil and political rights 

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011

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The state has become dysfunctional in providing basic human rights to the people. Though the parliament exists it either cannot assert its constitutional duties or does not want to assert itself in the presence of the powerful military which is dominating both internal and external affairs. The Pakistani society and the government remain under the strong grip of the military which does not allow them to interfere in the affairs of the armed forces. Pakistan remains a highly militarized society where economic, political, foreign affairs and judicial policies are dictated by the armed forces. The laws for the benefit of women, religious minorities and against torture and enforced disappearances cannot be made without the prior approval from the military. The parliament has been made redundant and its decisions are occasionally reverted through the judiciary at the behest of the military.

The year 2011 was no different from the previous years for the human rights defenders. This year it was more open and blatant when government ratifies the different covenants and conventions of UN. The government has still not developed any mechanism to provide protection for the human rights defenders and sometimes it is observed that law enforcement authorities were harsher with the HR defenders.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented the killing of 18 human rights defenders during the year by the state intelligence agencies.

The government of Pakistan has dodged not only the UN but also the European Union who pursued the government to withdraw all its reservations on the many articles of the ICCPR and the CAT.  The European Union had conveyed that these reservations had made Pakistan ineligible for the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status to be accorded in 2014 by the European Union. To settle the issue, the Prime Minister chaired an Inter-Ministerial Meeting, the cabinet, at the end of June 2011, in which it was decided to withdraw its reservations on Articles 6, 7, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 40 of ICCPR. The reservation on Article 3 was narrowed down to Personal Law and Law of Evidence, and the reservation on Article 25 was restricted to the election of the President of Pakistan.

On the CAT it was decided to withdraw reservations on Articles 3, 4, 6, 12, 13 and 16. The reservation on Article 8 was retained. The declarations on Article 20 as provided in Article 28 (1) and Article 30 (1) were also retained. This eye wash effort, to make fools of the international community, was done by the government to avail itself of multiple trade concessions, privileges and enhanced trade activities with the European Union.

The year 2011 started with the killings of hundreds of persons including those of high profile personalities; the governor of a province and a federal minister of minority affairs, by the extremist religious groups who infiltrated the law enforcement agencies. The arrest of a Christian lady, Aasia Bibi, on baseless Blasphemy charges from some mosque leaders took religious intolerance and fanaticism to its highest peak. The state played a dubious role to appease religious extremism. It remained a silent spectator in the killings of Mr. Salman Taseer, former governor of Punjab province and former federal minister of minority affairs, a Christian minister in cabinet. The government’s ineptitude to stop religious and sectarian intolerance has strengthened the banned militant religious groups so that they are able to organize and collect funds in the streets and hold huge rallies. This ineptitude of the government has encouraged the forced conversion to Islam of girls from religious minority groups. In total throughout the country during the year around 1,800 women from Hindu and Christian groups were forced to convert to Islam by different methods particularly though abduction and rape.

The government had extended his appeasement policy towards the fundamentalists and helped them to unleash their forces of tolerance and enlightenment which in result made the Muslim extremists the ”Heroes of Islam”. The government’s actions have polarized the society on a religion basis which is harming the democratic process.

During the year, in Karachi, capital of Sindh alone, 1,800 persons were killed and political parties from ruling coalition were involved in ethnic target killings. The minister of interior says that during two years 3938 people were killed in Karachi city. In Balochistan during the year disappearances by the plain clothed persons continued and more than 100 persons were disappeared. Around 100 missing persons were extrajudicially killed and the family members of the victims claim that these persons were abducted by law enforcement agencies.

Nearly 161 persons were laid with blasphemy charges in the country during the year so far. Nine of them were extrajudicially murdered. Murders in the name of Karo kari, (killings in the name of honour), are reported daily. Target killings in Karachi and different parts of Balochistan are on the rise. Sectarian killings have been continuing, even without any consideration of Eid days or Ramadan (Islamic festivals).

The government has not made any progress in the draconian Blasphemy law which has taken many lives including high profile personalities of the government but, instead, the authorities are covertly patronizing militant groups. The courts, which claimed to be independent after 2007, have proved themselves to be friends of the militants and the terrorists. In many cases terrorists were released by the courts, especially from the higher courts on the plea that the prosecution has not made its case properly but no reforms were suggested to the prosecution. The high profile terrorists, who openly boast of having killed hundreds of people, were released by the courts.

The government has not introduced any reforms in the judicial criminal justice system. The present criminal justice system is generally based on torture, ill treatment and corruption which always provide impunity to the perpetrators. In addition the Shariah laws are thought to be the best way to get impunity. The two laws are running parallel to each other, the Islamic and secular. The rule of law has deteriorated because of this system.

The investigation system remains the main cause of torture and ill-treatment and illegal detention. Torture is still treated as the best way for the investigation system. Every year thousands of people are tortured in custody at either the police or army’s illegal detention centers. Every police station in the country is running private torture centers besides the police stations themselves or conducting torture in private houses. The military, navy, Air force and Para-military forces are all running torture cells. They not only torture their opponents but also using torture cells to settle their petty issues.

During the year 2011 government could not stop the enforced disappearances by the military, Para-Military forces and their spy agencies. A new process in the cases of disappearances was introduced by killing the persons extrajudicially so as to eliminate the evidence of enforced disappearances and torture in custody. During the year 2011 more than 100 persons were extrajudicially killed after being reported missing due to arrest by the law enforcement agencies, particularly by the Frontier Corp (FC), a Par-Military organization, and spies from the intelligence agencies. Since July 2010 to date, 215 missing persons’ bullet riddled bodies were found abandoned. The open secret of disappearances illustrates the grip the military establishment retains over Pakistani society, including its dysfunctional justice system and feeble civilian government, which has repeatedly vowed to stop the problem. A government commission was informed about the numbers of missing people but has traced only some dozens out of the hundreds of missing people. It has also been publicly acknowledged that the Pakistani intelligence agencies are involved, but no one has been held accountable. The military does not allow the judiciary to interfere with its affairs and the judiciary itself keeps its distance from taking the cases against the military because judicial officials know their fate well.

The poverty index has declined in comparison with last year. 30.6 per cent of Pakistanis were living below the poverty line in 1998-99. 28.3% were living below the poverty line in 2004-5 (World Bank). One per cent (0.64 per cent plus 0.37 per cent) of households owned over 35 acres. 9.66 per cent owned between five and 12.5 acres.18.25 per cent households owned less than five acres of land.

This year the floods have added more havoc to the poverty ridden people. More than 200,000 people are displaced and hundreds of thousand houses were destroyed in the floods. The negligence of the authorities and improper mechanisms to deal with natural disasters has put the lives of millions of people in peril after the heavy rains.  This year, the floods have claimed about 1040 people, directly affected 2.2 millions, 20 millions in overall, collapsed houses of 1.5 million, inundated 4.2 million acres of land. The loss of crops alone is estimated to be Rs. 5.6 billion while three millions are still in need of food while some affected were dying of hunger and starvation. The most vulnerable groups exposed to flood and rains were children and women, pregnant women in particular, who are the majority of deaths and the affected. Yet, the government of Pakistan failed to manage emergency to secure people’s lives despite having gone through a similar catastrophe last year. The government aid for the affected failed to reach them due to the corrupt bureaucratic system dealing with humanitarian aid.

Freedom of expression and the press has remained a main focal point for the military, its intelligence agencies and for religious fundamentalists, including the powerful persons. Though the government has provided freedom of media without any interference and not a single case was reported for twisting the arms of the media. But many cases of involvement of the military intelligence agencies in killing, abduction and disappearances of the journalists were reported. 16 journalists were killed, among them five journalists were abducted by the spies of state intelligence agencies, kept incommunicado in different torture cells, tortured and their bullet ridden bodies were dumped on the road side. Five journalists were killed in bomb blasts while performing their professional duties, six journalists were killed in target killings. One journalist is missing after abduction by the plain clothed persons.

The unanimous passage of the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s constitution by parliament last year was a major development to establish a parliamentary government system. The amendment constitutes one of the most dramatic de-concentrations of power in Pakistan since the drafting of its 1973 constitution and deleted all the amendments made in the constitution by the military rulers. Through the amendment the powers of the federal government were devolved to the provinces but after the passage of more than 18 months the process of devolution were stopped for unknown reasons.

It is a good premonition that government has not executed anyone since October 2008. Around 8000 persons are waiting in the death row.

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