Human rights, political process must be respected and reinforced: HRCP

Lahore, March 18:  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has voiced alarm over the continued deterioration in the state of human rights across the country and emphasised the need for all actors and institutions to urgently address pressing concerns as well as respect and strengthen the political process.

 A statement approved by the HRCP annual general meeting said on Sunday: “The country is passing through a critical phase where the democratic experiment is on trial and it is imperative that the political process is respected and reinforced. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan considers it important that the process of improving the constitution continues until all accretions of dictatorship are thrown out and the chapter on fundamental rights is further reinforced. In HRCP’s view a four-year term for parliament may also be considered so as to enable the people to exercise their democratic rights more frequently and to hold the government accountable. It will also create space for the emergence of fresh leadership. Now is the time to improve vigilance in guarding against any form of extra-democratic intervention in the forthcoming general elections, by the military, by extremists, or through any special judicial process. The people’s anxieties on that count must be given due weight and urgently addressed.

HRCP is acutely concerned over escalations in religious and sectarian violence and demands that the government launch and sustain a robust effort by civilian and military authorities to adequately respond to the growing menace, especially the oppression of the Ahmedis, the killing of the Shias, and the kidnapping for ransom and forced conversion of the Hindus. At least part of the focus must be on stemming intolerance in society. It is hard to find a silver lining in Balochistan where victims of enforced disappearance remain missing or their dead bodies are increasingly discovered. At least 173 bodies were found in 2011. Unless political means are used to address an essentially political problem, things are bound to get worse. Impunity for the security agencies must be ended, law and order improved and the explosion in the incidents of kidnapping for ransom brought under control. In the final analysis the people of Balochistan must have a decisive say in their affairs. HRCP demands that the government pay immediate attention to early warning signs of serious problems and unrest in Gilgit Baltistan and urges action to address people’s political and socio-economic concerns and put an end to sectarian violence. There has been no improvement in the situation in Karachi and nothing has been done to prevent the regular cycles of violence.

A new wave of targeting political activists in Sindh through abduction and murder has added to the alarm of the people. It is a disgrace that nearly a decade after the menace of enforced disappearance raised its ugly head, not a single person has been held to account for involvement in this travesty. The government must immediately acknowledge all such detentions, release the people and put in place means to ensure that disappearances become a thing of the past. It is high time to introduce a compensation regime for victims of crime by the state. A considerable number of people are known to be in military detention following the security forces’ operations against the militants. Due process must be ensured for these people too. The consensus on the need to introduce legislation to regulate the working of the intelligence agencies must be respected. Threats to human rights defenders have continued unchallenged and three HRCP activists have been killed in 2011 alone. The state must ensure protection for those defending others’ rights and provide an environment conducive for them to work without threats to their lives. The HRCP general body condemns the degree of freedom allowed to certain groups to circulate malicious material against individuals including Asma Jahangir. Such acts must be investigated seriously and the perpetrators brought to justice. The troubles of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) do not appear to be a priority for the government any more. That is unfortunate as the challenges of the displaced persons and HRCP’s concerns at their problems have grown in recent months. The shelter and livelihood concerns of those who have returned after displacement have not been adequately addressed and there is substantial room for improvement in consultation with the affected people. The health and education needs of the displaced children must be given much more priority than they have received so far. The number of the Pakistanis, many of them irregular migrants, who are detained abroad runs into thousands. Their plight has gone unnoticed for long and deserves attention. Efforts must be made to ensure their right to due process and to return home. The people are gravely concerned over the epidemic of kidnappings for ransom and a general breakdown of law and order all over Pakistan. Crime has grown in cities and rural areas alike and socio-economic reasons, including financial deprivation, have also played a role. Increased militant activity in the last few months has also added to these concerns.

The people feel vulnerable and at the mercy of criminals and militants. Weaponisation of society, violence in educational institutions of higher learning and murders in the name of honour continue. The HRCP general body reminds the government of its responsibility to protect the rights of the people beginning with their right to life. HRCP notes with disappointment that the recent amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) have brought virtually no change to the system of governance. Urgent changes must be made to the law to ensure proper reform and due process. Collective punishment, punitive demolition of houses and all forms of arbitrary detention must be made illegal. The vacuum that exists in the enforcement of human rights in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is indefensible and the creation of a mechanism for enforcement of human rights in the region cannot be delayed. HRCP expresses its grave concern over challenges to freedom of expression and the reported plans to censor the media and the Internet. Media, civil society and the people in general must be consulted before any changes are considered in the law. The media should do more to counter radicalization and intolerance. It is a scandal that the misuse of blasphemy laws and the official apathy and appeasement of extremists have continued. The government must abide by its promises to protect the people from vigilantes claiming to act under the banner of religion. HRCP welcomes the recently adopted pro-women rights laws and will keenly monitor how they are implemented. It also welcomes the SMS service provided by the Election Commission for verification of voters’ details and hopes that this would help ensure error-free electoral rolls.”

Kamran Arif
Co-chairperson

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