PAKISTAN: From the Frying Pan, to the Fire

Human Rights violations remain widespread due to the failings of, and lack of reforms to, the country’s institutional framework, in particular, key institutions of the rule of law – the police, the prosecution, and the judiciary. This is compounded by persisting impunity enjoyed by law enforcement agencies particularly by the Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies. The lack of effective investigations by the police and the lack of effective prosecutions, even in the rare cases where alleged perpetrators are brought to court, mean that violations continue to go unpunished. Where those responsible are state agents and members of powerful groups, this is even more marked. The Government of Pakistan has thus failed to implement the recommendations made to ensure fair trials, punish cases of abuse by the security forces, and ensure that victims have access to protection and redress.

As the year 2015 began, the country was reeling from the massacre of 128 school children of an Army public school in Peshawar. And, instead of instituting a judicial inquiry commission to probe the security lapses of the Pakistan Military, the government succumbed to the security establishment. What followed were a constitutional amendment, institution of military courts, and other retrogressive unilateral decisions.

The government implemented draconian security measures and came up with a 20 point action plan with the stated objective of curbing militancy. In the first phase of implementation, the government lifted the moratorium on death sentences, with effect from 27 December 2014. During the year more than 315 persons executed and government has intention to gear up the execution next year which may go up to 1000 executions.

The establishment of military courts further corroded the institution of democracy which stands on the principles of trichotomy of power as envisaged in the Constitution. These courts are given all-encompassing power to hold in camera proceedings, setting aside due process and the right to fair trial. The plan has served little purpose to curb the tide of militancy, as the high incidence of violence and terror attacks continue.

Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and the largest industrial city of the country, continues to witness extrajudicial killings while Punjab Province topped the crime rate list in the country. The systematic persecution of religious minority groups continues amidst prevailing anarchy across Pakistan.

While terrorists thrive, extrajudicial killings by state agents are protected and encouraged by the law known as the Pakistan Protection Act (PPA), which provides absolute authority to law enforcement agencies, including military organisations, to shoot at sight any suspect, keep them in custody for 90 days, and torture them to get confessional statements. Since the promulgation of the ordinance in September 2013, daily, on average, at least two persons have been killed in encounters in Pakistan during the encounters with police, Rangers and Frontier constabulary (FC). 
Additionally, Pakistan has suffered several economic losses worth billions of dollars due to natural calamities in recent times. The National Disaster Management cell has failed to provide much needed support to affected families who found themselves stranded, left to fend for themselves. Then, the worst heat wave ever in the history of the country hit the Sindh Province in July, with Karachi being the worst affected. More than 1,000 people lost their lives – many due to preventable causes. State apathy has thus been on full display in 2015. 
Pakistan’s the justice system is riddled with gaping problems related to fair trial and with conviction after conviction based on statements extracted by the police through torture and other forms of ill-treatment. A staggering proportion of the accused have reported facing custodial torture, which is a serious indictment of due process of law in Pakistan and the fairness of its criminal justice system.

The prosecutor, being a State agent, and due to the lack of adequate legal aid, is forced to act as a lawyer for victims. Being overburdened and overworked, the prosecutor is unable and unwilling to take victims into confidence in their own cases. The victims are generally not conversant with the legal nuances and are not aware of their rights. They are only informed about the development of the case through court notices. The victim thus becomes an illegitimate child in the whole proceeding that no one wants to deal with. A demoralized police and prosecution often drags its feet when it comes to investigation. The victim reporting the crime is the first suspect the police interrogate.

The government has created parallel systems within the justice system. Not only is it against the right of fair trial, as provided in ICCPR Articles 14 and 16, it is against the fundamental right of fair trial and due process as enshrined in Article 10A of the Constitution of Pakistan. The principal of salus populi suprema lex esto (the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law) has been abused to pass arbitrary laws citing necessity.

The law enforcement agencies (LEA) in Pakistan including the Army and Pakistan Rangers, have been given unbridled power to control terrorism through many draconian laws which empower them to raid any place without search warrants, shoot suspects on sight, keep suspects in custody for 90 days for further investigation, and even select the cases which can be tried before Military Courts.

The judiciary and fair trial procedure have been totally undermined and ridiculed as the law enforcement agencies, particularly the police, are always making complaints against the Judiciary that the courts let off the suspects who the police apprehend after considerable investigation. The judicial response to such allegations is that investigations are often faulty and the prosecution fails to prove the case beyond doubt.

Pakistan’s criminal justice system is hypocritical and elitist, punishing the poor man caught in a petty crime, while allowing those with deep pockets to get away with murder. This selective administration of justice has caused massive overcrowding of prisons.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, an international research organization focused on the state of prisons in the world, currently Pakistan has 97 prisons. Of these 32 are in Punjab, 26 in Sindh, 22 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 11 in Balochistan provinces, and 6 are in Gilgit Baltistan, a newly demarcated territory of Pakistan. The collective authorized capacity of these prisons is 42,670. However, 78,328 prisoners are housed in these prisons. Thus, the jails throughout Pakistan are housing 35,000 more prisoners than their designed capacity.

Thousands of prisoners are awaiting trial for petty crimes such as theft, substance abuse, drinking, and possession of drugs and alcohol. Prisoners languish in jail for many years for petty crimes having maximum punishment of two years, often because they have failed to pay the bail bonds or fines amounting to a few thousand rupees

According to the freedom index, released by Reporters without Borders, an advocacy group working for media freedom around the world, Pakistan is ranked 159 out of 180 countries. The International Federation of Journalists has cited Pakistan as being the most dangerous country for journalists in the world, with 14 journalists killed in 2014 alone.

In the last two years, Pakistani media and digital platforms have seen an increase in restrictions imposed by both state and non-state actors. Some of these restrictions are directly imposed and some are an indirect result of prevailing impunity for state and non-state actors, who threaten and attack journalists and bloggers for political or ideological expression.

According to Thomson Reuters Foundation poll, Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women after Afghanistan and Congo. The report cited cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women, including acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse as a reason for the ranking. The report also stated that 90% of women in Pakistan face domestic violence.

In recent years, in gang rapes, the rapists have been filming the act, and have later been threatening the victim with dissemination of the video if he or she dares to report the crime. As there is no specific law to force websites to take down videos, and there is a lack of political will, victims are usually silenced, bowing to the demands of the rapists.

Child sexual abuse in particular cripples Pakistan and its future. Cases go unreported as the subject is taboo and attracts the wrath of the religious clergy. Sexual abuse is perceived as shameful and hence hundreds of innocent children live their lives in the shadow, reliving memories and trauma of the assault. Worst of all, no matter how heinous the crime, few victims in Pakistan want to report the incident to the police, and this is the tragedy of the nation. The nature of the police and the justice system that awaits the victims is the foremost reason why such crimes go unreported and unpunished.