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PAKISTAN: Women fighting for their rights and groups fighting for electoral reforms express frustration over government's failure to implement laws

March 2, 2007
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AS-040-2007
March 2, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Women fighting for their rights and groups fighting for electoral reforms express frustration over government's failure to implement laws

A group of civil society organisations threatened to launch a campaign for the protection of the rights of women in Sindh. They have stated that they will beat up men who are found to occupy seats that are reserved for women on public transport (Daily Times February 28, 2007).

They are making this protest after they attempted to pursue their legitimate objectives by other means for a long time and such attempts failed. The women criticize the failure of the government of Pakistan to implement the Women's Protection Act.

Meanwhile other groups threaten that if the elections are rigged they will attack the election officers and harm anyone who tries to prevent free and fair elections (Daily Express March 1, 2007 – an Urdu language publication). Such protests come due to a common belief that there are highly organized attempts to rig elections and the possibility of holding proper, free and fair elections does not exist.

They, also like the women, feel that intense pressure has been exercised on the government to make it aware of the defects in the electoral process but the government has not done anything to respond to such protests. In fact there is a common belief that the government itself is politically involved in trying to manipulate the elections.

Both these announcements of threats of physical force to defend basic human rights such as the freedom to travel without being sexually harassed by men and the right to expect free and fair elections demonstrates the high level of popular frustration against the military regime that appears to have proved incapable of addressing the legitimate demands of the people.

The making of laws such as the Women's Protection Act and other laws relating to free and fair elections is laudable. However, just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of a law is in its implementation. Where the country seems to have failed is in the arena of the implementation of the basic laws, which for the most part, exist only in the books. Breeching the gap between the legislative enactments and their actual implementation is the task of the executive and in Pakistan the executive seems to have failed in this task.

The executive instead may use violence against women who would more proactively try to defend their right to take the seats reserved for them in public transport. The executive might also use similar methods against those who would protest against the rigging of elections. Thus, the government's target, as is in other countries, would be those persons who legitimately protest against gross violations of their rights and not those who cause such violations.

The government of Pakistan should address the very legitimate grievances of the women's groups who find that even the most basic protection made available to them by law is not being respected and electors who find that their right to a free and fair election may not be respected either. The government must demonstrate its implementation capacity with regard to such laws. When the implementation capacity is allowed to fail a question would arise about the good faith of the government itself. When there is doubt on that score the very legitimacy of the ruling regime will be in crisis.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of Pakistan to take all necessary measures by the use of its law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who obstruct women from the use of their reserved seats be arrested and prosecuted. We also urge that the government takes all such measures as appropriate to ensure free and fair elections. If violence erupts due to the failure of the government to implement the law then the people of the country and the international community will place the blame for such acts on the government itself.


Document Type :
Statement
Document ID :
AS-040-2007
Countries :
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