A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission - Human Rights Day 2012
The PPP-led government under President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Ministers Yousaf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervez Ashraf has made some effort to improve the protection of human rights however, continuing political instability, frailty and failure of the country’s institutions related to the rule of law, ongoing impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of violations – notably the police, military, and intelligence services – and persistent grave human rights violations, along with the humanitarian problems associated with the most devastating floods in the history of Pakistan in, mean that the human rights and security situation has worsened in 2012.
Despite having accepted recommendations to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED), the government of Pakistan has refused to follow through. Numerous disappearances continue to be reported. Fundamental rights enshrined in these instruments, including the protection from torture, from forced disappearance, and from extra-judicial killing, continue to be violated, widely and with impunity.
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 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.
Pakistan accepted recommendations to establish a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in line with the Paris Principles. Pakistan’s Senate on March 9, 2012 established an NHRC under the Pakistan Human Rights Commission law. But, the NHRC still has not initiated its work. While its formation is welcome, it remains to be seen whether the NHRC or the parliament will be able to bring the military and intelligence under the ambit of the law, something civilian government and the courts have failed to do. It must be noted that the law also restricts foreign funding for NGOs without approval, something that has the potential to be abused to obstruct NGOs working in favour of human rights.
Additionally, Pakistan’s dual judicial system, which comprises a secular system of national laws and courts, as well as parallel traditional jirgas and Shariah court systems, results in conflicting, and often contradictory, efforts to provide justice, something that has undermined the protection of rights. For instance, the Shariah court stopped land reforms through a stay order in 1980 during the military dictator General Ziaul Haq’s rule. The Shariah court termed land reforms as un-Islamic.
Land reforms were introduced in 1975 by the Bhutto regime, but since 1980 the higher courts are even not hearing the cases which were filed against the stay order.
The two girls have changed the society
The two girls, 14 year old Malala Yousufzai and 11 year old Ramsha Masih, have changed the mindset of the society which was under the pressure of repression and terrorism of the Muslim fundamentalist forces. The people of Pakistan were never been so united as they have shown solidarity with these two girls. Not only the there was a strong movement for them but also the world has come out in their support.
Malala the silence breaker-- not the silence broker
Malala Yousuf Zai has become the silence broker in the Pakistani society whose sacrifice has given a voice to the people who were scared of terrorists and Muslim fundamentalists because of the state policy of appeasement towards the Muslim groups.
October 9, 2012, is the day that has witnessed the unanimous indignation of the world because of the infamous attack suffered by Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in her head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban militants, while she was going back home from school on a bus full of other young students. Malala is a 14 year old school student and known activist for girl’s rights in the Swat Valley, the region in the north of Pakistan where Taliban extremists have been trying to take control and rule. Among the plans of these extremists, there is also the attempt to banish girls from attending school, as well as the prohibition of music, television and other forms of amusement considered against morality. Malala’s father, Mr. Ziauddin Yousafzai, is a poet, school owner and an educational activist himself, and has always encouraged his daughter to study and pursue education.
Ramsha, an 11 year old Christian girl affected by mental retardation, can indubitably offer a clear example of extreme bigotry in the name of dogmatism. This year in August, she was arrested on the charge of blasphemy because falsely accused by a Muslim neighbor of burning pages of the Holy Quran.The case of
The whole society stood behind her and government was forced to provide protection to her. The courts of the country which are generally not providing relief to the women victims however in this case under the pressure from civil society Islamabad high court has released her from the blasphemy charges.
Killings: Order of the day
Sectarian and ethnic killings have become order of the day because of the appeasement policies of the government towards such groups. In 2012, 1800 people were killed in Karachi in target killings and sectarian violence. More than 200 Shias, the second largest Mulim group, were killed in sectarian killings in different parts of the country particularly the Hazara Shias, by the majority Sunni and by terrorists and banned organizations. More than 500 persons were killed in the terrorists and suicide bomb attacks.
Daily life in Pakistan is marred by terrorist attacks that range from bombings to shootings and execution-style killings. All these are taking place in an environment where law enforcement agencies are too helpless to intervene. Little in the way of investigation takes place and, even when the identities of the perpetrators are known, no arrests are made.
While a majority of the terrorists are members of Taliban and its various groups, the others are from ethnic, nationalist and Islamic organisations. They make up the same numbers as those of the Taliban and as a result the most common smell on the streets of Pakistan is that of gunpowder and cordite. The sounds of gunshots, automatic fire, and explosions are interspersed with heart rending screams of the surviving family members. It is not overly dramatic to say that few people know whether they or their loved ones will see the dawn of another day. Parents keep the image of their school-going children in their minds, while in their hands they hold their mobile phones, constantly fearing the call that will bring them bad news. No one who has to leave their homes for work or family business knows whether he or she will be the victim of a stray bullet or a suicide bomber.
The most productive industry in the country is the manufacturing of explosives used by suicide bombers and this industry is financed by donations from vested interests abroad, sections of the military and high ranking officials of the government. Apart from the physical bombs themselves, the suicide bombers are being 'manufactured' at a similar rate. This is thanks to the religious extremists that spread messages of hate from the very mosques supposed to be spreading a type of religious peace. In Pakistan the meaning of the word 'justice' translates as "How do we save our own skin. How do we pretend to do our jobs without appearing to be humble servants of the terrorists and extremists?"
Freedom of Expression & the Media
During the year, from January to end of the November, 10 journalists were killed where as last year 16 journalists were killed. The authorities would be happy to see that this year less numbers of journalists were killed rather than providing mechanism for the protection of working journalists.
Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with both state and non-state actors targeting them with threats and attacks.
The higher courts have tried to restrict the freedom of expression by imposing ban on court reporting and comments on decisions, particularly about the biased attitudes of the judges in favour of son of chief justice, who was accused of taking huge bribe for settling cases against a particularly tycoon.
Despite the Supreme Court having ruled that all Musharraf-era amendments are now null and void, the National Assembly has retained two amendments in the pending 2010 Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) amendment Bill, one of which bans broadcasting institutions from publicizing views or actions that are “detrimental to ideology of Pakistan, sovereignty, national security and integrity.” Any content perceived as being derogatory to state institutions are banned. The government has gone further and added a clause to the Bill, banning the broadcasting of any programme or discussion aimed at influencing or giving opinions about sub-judice matters. Those responsible for or assisting the violation of the ordinance can be fined up to Rs. 10 million (around USD $110,000), with cable operators broadcasting such content facing three years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Additionally, in Punjab Province, a ban has been imposed on all government officials from interacting with the media under the new Protection and Communication of Official Information Rule, which is being seen as unconstitutional, as well as a serious threat to media freedom and the right to information.
The Government of Pakistan has accepted a recommendation to review laws and measures to ensure that restrictions imposed on freedom of expression are in conformity with the ICCP
Pakistan has amongst the highest number of forced disappearances in the world, considered to number in the thousands over the last decade itself, with numerous disappearances continuing to take place. Forced disappearances are part of a pattern that includes arbitrary or illegal arrests, detention in secret locations, and torture, which frequently results in extra-judicial killings. Exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, as many disappearances take place in remote areas affected by armed conflict – such as the Balochistan Province (in connection with conflict between governmental armed forces and Balochi nationalist armed forces); the Khaiber Pakhtoon Kha province (related mostly to counter-terrorism, often in connivance with foreign forces); and in Pakistani-held Kashmir (typically for refusal to participate in the “Jihad” inside Indian-held Kashmir or to provide information to intelligence agencies). Hundreds of cases have also been reported in Khaiber Pakhtun Kha and Pakistan-held Kashmir, while tens of cases have also been reported in Sindh and Punjab.
Torture: Torture remains endemic, widespread, and is typically accompanied by impunity in Pakistan. Extreme forms of torture continue to be documented in the country, including, inter alia: beatings with fists, sticks, and guns on different parts of the body, including the soles of the feet, face, and sexual organs; death threats and mock executions; strangulation and asphyxiation; prolonged shackling in painful positions; use of chilli-water in the eyes, throat and nose; exposure to extreme hot and cold temperatures; mutilation, including of sexual organs; and sexual violence, including rape. Torture is used by the military and intelligence agencies in the contexts of counter-terrorism and armed conflict, but is also widespread in routine investigations by the police.
Security forces and intelligence services are known to be operating ‘torture centers’ in many of major cantonments across the country, which are often in or around major cities. The AHRC has evidence of around 50 such centers currently in operation. The government has taken no action to close these centers. There is a clear requirement for independent civilian monitoring of all places of detention in Pakistan, which speaks to the pressing need for the Government of Pakistan to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to CAT (OPCAT), without delay, as well as to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture as a priority.
The climate of impunity is illustrated by the increasing use of torture by state agents in public places. Video evidence shows how Pakistani officials are using torture in public as a repressive tool to create fear and exert control. Significantly, no effective action has been taken against the May 1999 police torture of the current sitting President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Zardari. The alleged perpetrator, former Inspector General of Police Sindh province, Mr. Rana Maqbool, has in fact been appointed Prosecutor General of the Punjab Province.
The AHRC continues to document hundreds of cases of extra-judicial killings in Pakistan, which are accompanied by impunity, due to a lack of investigation and prosecution. Many such killings are linked to forced disappearance and torture, following which victims surface dead. For example, in Balochistan province alone, between July 2010 and October 2011, the ALRC documented 215 extra-judicial killings following abduction by paramilitary forces or disappearance by Pakistan’s law enforcement and security agencies. Journalists, teachers, political activists, students and human rights defenders have been targeted, in particular. The pretext of ‘encounter killings’ is typically used by the authorities to falsely justify extra-judicial killings as being legitimate.
Human Rights Defenders
Human rights defenders (HRDs) remain subject to: threats and reprisals against them and their families; harassment; legal and physical attacks; arbitrary arrests and detention; forced disappearance; and torture and extra-judicial killing by state and non-state actors. The government has failed to establish an effective national policy of protection for HRDs or to combat impunity by effectively investigating and prosecuting those responsible for such attacks. The lack of effort to combat impunity mirrors the lack of effort to address the whole range of human rights violations witnessed in Pakistan. And, this, in turn, stems from institutional failings within the police and justice delivery mechanisms, and lack of political will on the part of the government to institute effective institutional reforms. The fact that HRDs expose these failings, places them at particular risk.
Persons who work in favour of human rights, but contrary to the interests of radical Islamist groups, face considerable threat, as may be noted in the killings in 2011 of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs, Shabaz Bhatti, who were targeted for their efforts to protect minorities, and their opposition to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.
Another accepted recommendation calls for the government to address the repressive effect of civil society monitoring procedures and anti-terrorism legislation on the operation of human rights defenders. The sentencing of six leaders of a power-loom workers union to a total of 490 years in jail, based on fabricated charges under anti-terrorism legislation in November 2011, illustrates the government’s failure in this regard.
The killings of HRD’s in Balochistan, while they were documenting cases of forced disappearances as part of the Supreme Court’s efforts to compile a list of cases, illustrates the risks to defenders who work on the gravest rights abuses.
The Government of Pakistan has failed to invite the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit the country despite accepting a recommendation to do so.
Despite having accepted several recommendations to guarantee freedom of religion in law and practice, religious discrimination and attacks on minorities continue unabated in Pakistan. The government is bending to sustained pressure from fundamentalist Islamic groups.
Banned religious groups continue to operate freely. Banned religious groups under the supervision of Punjab provincial government launched a public hate campaign calling for citizens to kill members of the Ahmadiyya community and attack their businesses. The authorities took no action against the group. In Balochistan, gunmen belonging to banned religious organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) shot dead 26 Pakistani Shia Muslim pilgrims travelling to Iran. This brings the total number of Shia’s killed to over 800 over the last three years, without credible action being taken by the governments.
It is deplorable that the government failed to place the country’s blasphemy law in line with the ICCPR. This law continues to be abused to persecute religious minorities. In one case, an 11-year-old Christian girl, Ramsha Masih, has been booked on the charges of blasphemy law but the government, instead of mobilizing the society against the misuse of blasphemy laws, preferred to send her out of the country to appease the fundamentalists.
The AHRC estimates that on average some 700 Christian and 300 Hindu girls are forcibly converted to Islam each year in Pakistan, notably in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtun Kha and Sindh provinces. Typically, girls are abducted, raped, and kept in Madrassas, where they are forced to sign marriage certificates and state that they have converted to Islam. Despite the 2011 Prevention of Anti-women Practices Act, which abolishes the practice of forced marriages and the exchange of girls in settling disputes, as well as the marriage of minor girls, the police refuse to intervene in such cases and courts are even complicit in this, by nullifying women’s previous non-Islamic marriages and recognizing their forced marriages instead.
The Ahmadis are one group denied their right to vote; they cannot register as a voter in Pakistan. It is a most shameful and horrifying fact that all Muslims in Pakistan, in order to get I.D cards essential for registering as a voter, have to make a declaration pronouncing the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Community as an imposter and a liar. Being a minority community, the Ahmadis are denied the basic rights of the vote to elect their representatives and that under the present civil government they have been swiftly and effectively expelled from the whole electoral process or herself an Ahmadi. The Government of Pakistan has not only confiscated their freedom to faith, belief and practice, but is also victimising them socially, economically and educationally.
Violations of Women’s Rights
Women face discrimination in all facets of life in Pakistan and brutal treatment such as domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape (by state and non-state actors), torture, honour killings, and murder. Verdicts by jirgas (illegal tribal judicial courts) ensure the persistence of violence against women. Those responsible typically go unpunished due to discriminatory laws and gender bias. It is believed that 70\% of people who commit honour killings in Pakistan escape punishment. The government remains unwilling to challenge fundamentalist Islamic groups and traditional practices. The government rejected key recommendations in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), concerning the need to repeal the Hadood and Zina Ordinances, to decriminalise adultery, and to prohibit the use of Qisas and Daiyat law in cases of honour killings. The grave problem of honour killings persists in Pakistan, with AHRC continuing to document cases.
Local and national media have reported 215 cases of Karo Kari, the honour killing, from January 1st, 2012 to November 20th, 2012.After analyzing data, a research team, of the NGO Foundation for Research & Community Empowerment (FRCE), has come to conclusion that more than 80 percent of karo-kari killings have taken place only in northern areas of Sindh. Kari is a type of premeditated honor killing, which originated in rural and tribal areas of Sindh. The homicidal acts are primarily committed against women, who are thought to have brought dishonor to their family by engaging in illicit pre-marital or extra-marital relations. In order to restore this honor, a male family member must kill the female in question.