Statement by the HRCP Annual General Meeting

Lahore, March 30, 2008

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan welcomes the Prime Minister’s 100-day reform and relief package, in particular the lifting of the ban on students’ and trade unions, review of the PEMRA ordinance and the FCR, incentive to women workers, relief to farmers, increase in the minimum wage and expansion of employment opportunities. It is an encouraging declaration of purpose and policy.

HRCP believes that a complete break from authoritarian form of governance requires a forward looking approach to the many crises the country is facing. The foremost need is to establish democratic and responsible government, which fully respects human rights and protects its citizens. HRCP believes that while a large number of reforms are required, some initial steps are vitally needed to pave the way for an atmosphere where human rights can be respected:

1.                  The government of Pakistan should become a party to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political rights, ratify the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the UN Convention on Involuntary Disappearances and the Convention against Torture.         

2.                  Over 1.5 million internally displaced people are in dire state in Pakistan. The government must extend humanitarian assistance to all IDPs and seek for this the co-operation and assistance of the UNHCR.

3.                  At the earliest opportunity, the Parliament should set up a permanent and independent Election Commission and disassociate sitting judges from the electoral process.

4.                   The judiciary must be restored to the position of 2 November and all criteria of independence of the judiciary be adopted, so that the selection and accountability of judges can be made transparent.

5.                  There are thousands of Pakistani prisoners in foreign jails. Over 10,000 are in Gulf countries alone. We urge the government to depute a human rights officer in missions in countries where Pakistani prisoners are suffering. A large number of Pakistani prisoners continue to suffer imprisonment in India despite court orders that they should be repatriated and there are many others who have served their sentences.

6.                  A large number of people are still on the list of the disappeared and their cases are pending in various courts for over a year. The superior judiciary too could not get these individuals freed from the illegal detention made by security and intelligence agencies of the country. The new government should order their release and record their statements, so that the perpetrators of this heinous crime can be brought to justice.

7.                  No political government can survive nor can people’s rights be protected unless the working of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies is made transparent and they are accountable to the elected authorities of the country. The Parliament should identify the laws under which the intelligence agencies of the country operate and make them accountable. A clear message must be sent out that abuse of citizens’ rights and excesses against them by security and intelligence agencies will no longer be tolerated.

8.                  Over 7000 prisoners are on the death row. In the past year, 134 convicts were executed and 309 new ones awarded death penalty. The number of people awarded death penalty and the executions are among the highest in the world. HRCP research shows that international safeguards and restrictions on the application of death penalty are almost never observed. Capital punishment is irreversible and there is strong evidence that it is being applied in the country without regard to the due process. HRCP believes that a moratorium be immediately issued on the execution of death penalty and in the meanwhile a parliamentary committee should review the application of this form of punishment.

9.                  All reports of deaths in custody, torture or through so-called encounters must be thoroughly investigated. The reports of such investigations should be filed in the courts of the District and Civil judges, and made freely available to the media and civil society.

10.             All safe houses being illegally run by the law enforcement and security forces must be closed.

11.             The government must ensure that women also benefit directly from ownership rights transferred to the disadvantaged section of society by the government.

12.             NGOs must be granted access to prisons and police stations.

13.             The Prime Minister must take a pledge from all political parties to denounce militancy and ensure that no political party arms itself.

14.             It is crucial that a high level investigation be carried out into the target killing of scores of policemen in all parts of the country so that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.

15.             Finally, HRCP urges members of the parliament to eliminate the misuse of authority by the political forces themselves, including the Nazims. This was particularly evident during the recent election.

16.             Repeal of Pakistan Bar Council Act amendments.

HRCP recognizes that the government is faced with serious economic challenges which require its utmost priority, but these challenges cannot be met unless the rights of the people are fully guaranteed.

Asma elected Chairperson, Iqbal Haider Co-Chairperson

Press release, March 30

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Lahore: HRCP council elections were held today. The new Council elected the following office bearers Asma elected Chairperson, Iqbal Haider Co-Chairperson. Under the new rules HRCP will have Chairperson and Co-Chairperson. Dr. Mehdi Hassan was elected Vice-Chairperson (Punjab), Ghazi Salahudin Vice-Chairperson (Sindh), Ms. Musarrat Hilali Vice-Chairperson (Frontier) and Surriya Amiruddin Vice-Chairperson (Balochistan). Mr. Shahid Kardar was elected Treasurer.

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Zaman Khan, Coordinator HRCP

Too limited a mandate: Asma’s version

Following Ms. Asma Jahangir’s trip to India on a UN fact-finding mission, in the capacity of a ‘United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief’, several misrepresented facts, misquoted information and allegations cropped up –  we are publishing a letter Ms. Jahangir wrote to the Dawn newspaper in response to the criticism.

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Dawn – March 14, 2008

Too limited a mandate: Asma’s version


I was disappointed to read your editorial, ‘Too limited a mandate’ (March 12 ), but I am tempted to respond as your paper has great respect and carries independent views. Your criticism refers to the narrow mandate, my meetings and a misquoted comment.
The mandate that I have been entrusted by the United Nations is limited to the issue of freedom of religion or belief. These are UN mandates that have been in existence for many years and their terms of reference are given by the international community.UN Special Rapporteurs are required to remain within their mandates during official country visits; it is not appropriate for them to take any pleas, including from the media, to go beyond their terms of reference or to pursue other concerns that they may otherwise espouse.UN Special Rapporteurs are also required to engage with all sides, including government officials, victims, perpetrators, NGOs and other members of civil society that have any relevance to their mandate.It would be absurd for any UN Special Rapporteur to refuse meeting people on the grounds of criticism from fellow citizens or for that matter to expand their mandate because of their national or religious background.

We work in a truly professional way and must remain independent in our reporting. It is, therefore, crucial that while on mission we stay within our mandate and at the same time try to meet all players.

In this regard, as my report will reveal, I am meeting a wide spectrum of interlocutors and indeed a large number of NGOs in Gujarat which were fully aware of my official meetings, including with the chief minister there. It is ironical that the victims who met me in Gujarat were able to comprehend the nature of my visit while zealous Pakistanis seem to be unable to do the same.

Surely, the liberal and rightist in Pakistan cannot assume to themselves the role of guardians of all Muslims in the world and dictate to UN Special Rapporteurs who they should meet and how they should interpret their mandate. As a journalist, you will appreciate that a well-written report requires discussions with all sides in order to get the full picture. This is precisely what is also required of UN Special Rapporteurs.

Your claim that I had made comments on poll participation in Kashmir is misinformed. Throughout my visit I have made no comment on the general human rights situation in India except on my mandate. There was immense interest about the recent developments in Pakistan and in this regard there was great demand from the media for interviews and comments.

I turned down all requests for individual interviews on Pakistan and repeatedly excused myself from giving any comprehensive statements on these issues. Even on the insistence of the press I tried to be very succinct in my responses without having to snub them.

I did not make the comments on poll participation in Kashmir as reported by some sections of the press. On the contrary, when asked whether Kashmiris should take part in the next elections as Pakistanis recently did, I simply responded that it was everybody’s own decision and that it was a right of the people to decide whether to vote or not to vote. I repeated this position publicly on several occasions while I was still in Kashmir.

I hope that public opinion in Pakistan would allow an individual to perform his or her role in the international community in an impartial manner. Furthermore, the independence of the United Nations mandate holders is vital to the functioning of the whole system of Special Rapporteurs.

I have followed the recent press reports about my visit, including the ones appearing in Pakistan. I do not wish to offend anybody who has criticised me. At the same time I will in no way be pressured and I will continue to carry out my obligations in an independent and impartial manner.

ASMA JAHANGIR
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

HRCP strongly condemns the death of Indian Fisherman in the Hospital of District Malir Jail and wants unimpeded investigation into this tragic incident

Press Release, March 27, 2008 

Karachi: In a statement issued to the press, Zohra Yusuf, Vice Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Sindh Chapter has strongly condemned the death of an Indian Fisherman in the Hospital of District Malir Jail, Karachi and demanded unimpeded investigation into this tragic incident.  

One out of the 431 Indian fishermen, who were arrested and imprisoned for illegal fishing, died on March 20, 2008 during treatment in Malir Jail’s hospital.  Deceased Lakshman, 40, son of Kanji, was arrested by the Marine Security Agency for entering into Pakistani waters and imprisoned in Malir Jail on February 10, 2006, the statement said. 

HRCP demands immediate and impartial investigation into this tragic incident and urges the Government of Sindh to order a high level inquiry into the case and to take measures to prevent similar recurrences.  

HRCP also urged the Government of Pakistan to complete the legal formalities and co-ordinate efforts with the High Commission of India for the release and transportation of Indian Fishermen in the Malir District Jail, back to their hometowns in India  

Zohra Yusuf, Vice Chairperson

UN Press Release – Special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief concludes visit to india

UN UNITED NATIONS

Press Release 20 March 2008

SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF CONCLUDES VISIT TO INDIA  

Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the United Nations Human Rights Council, made the following statement on 20 March 2008 in Delhi at the end of her visit to India:

“I wish to thank the Government of India for inviting me here and for giving me this unique opportunity to study the situation with regard to freedom of religion or belief. India is a diverse country, where religions and beliefs are abundant and find respect in a secular framework. My mission started on 3 March 2008 in Amritsar and subsequently I visited Delhi, Jammu, Srinagar, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram, Bhubaneswar and Lucknow. Now I am again in Delhi and with this press conference I am concluding my mission to India.

During my country visit, I had the opportunity to meet with several Government officials, including the Ministers of External Affairs, Minority Affairs and Culture as well as with the Chief Ministers of Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Kerala and Orissa. In addition, I met with the Solicitor General, several Supreme Court Justices and High Court Judges as well as with members of various Human Rights and Minority Commissions. Further meetings with the civil society included leaders and members of the religious communities in India, academics, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and professionals of the visual arts industry. I would like to acknowledge the high level of cooperation I received both from the Government and from the citizens of India.

Indeed, due to the religious diversity of India, this country visit has been an enriching experience for the mandate I hold since 2004. I will be submitting a detailed report with conclusions and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council, therefore this press statement will only cover some preliminary impressions that I have formed during the past 2½ weeks. In this press statement it would be impossible to make a general assessment of the current state of freedom of religion or belief in the whole of India. In fact, this was not the first visit of the mandate, as my predecessor undertook a mission to India in 1996 (see UN Doc. E/CN.4/1997/91/Add.1). Consequently, my forthcoming report will also be a follow-up on developments during the past twelve years, in order to analyze what has changed and why.

Concerning the legal framework, I am well aware of the fact that the political system of India is of a federal nature and that the States have wide powers, including in the field of law and order. Thus the level of action of the Government to protect its citizens in terms of freedom of religion or belief varies according to the States concerned. I also acknowledge that there are democratic safeguards within the system and that the institutions have accumulated a vast experience in protecting human rights. Continue reading

HRCP Strongly Condemns Gang-rape at the Mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam

PRESS RELEASE, March 20

Karachi: In a joint statement issued to the press, Iqbal Haider, Secretary General, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Zohra Yusuf, Vice Chairperson, HRCP has strongly condemned the abduction, gang rape and humiliation of a 19 years old newly-wed woman of Lodhran, on the premises of the Mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan. They also condemned the harassment of the representatives of War Against Rape (WAR) at the Resident Engineer’s Office, Bagh-e-Quaid, by a group of people, during an identification process of a gang-rape case registered at the Brigade Police Station in Karachi. The Resident Engineer, who has the capacity to act as a Magistrate, allowed the identification process to be held under his supervision by calling the Mausoleum’s employees in groups to his office and lining them up in front of the survivor for identification. The WAR team was manhandled and threatened of seizing their vehicle and detaining their persons, after an employee of the Mausoleum was identified by the survivor as one of the rapists out of five and was the one who kidnapped the girl from inside the Mausoleum and shifted her to the storage room at gun-point.

The rape of a woman at Mazar-e Quaid is a matter of shame — not for the victim, but for the whole nation that has failed to protect its citizenry, particularly women and also for the management of the Mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam that has failed to provide security to the visitors of the Mausoleum.

HRCP notes that this is a serious criminal offense and therefore it is most urgent that the Government of Pakistan take immediate interventionary steps in this matter. It urged the Government to order an impartial and thorough investigation into the complaint filed by the victim and called upon the Government to intervene into the matter and to appoint a lady session judge to investigate the incident.

HRCP strongly demands that the people who are responsible for this act, especially the one identified by the victim, be taken into immediate police custody so that the police can be led to those culprits who have yet not been identified.  HRCP also urges the government to provide security to the victim and her family who at this point are vulnerable to intimidation.

Iqbal Haider, Secretary General

Zohra Yusuf, Vice Chairperson, Sindh

HRCP welcomes Sarabjit reprieve, urges leniency

Press release, March 19

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LAHORE: While welcoming a one-month stay of execution of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national convicted in Pakistan, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called for a review of his case in the larger interest of the people of the sub-continent.

Singh was to be hanged on April 1 following his conviction on charges of involvement in terrorist activities.

The Commission said: HRCP is as a matter of principle opposed to the award of the death penalty. While the death penalty continues to be awarded, it has have always argued in favour of leniency and clemency, especially in view of the flawed justice systems in this part of the world.

The relations between India and Pakistan have long affected the entire population of South Asia. One of the factors contributing to tensions between the two neighbours is the horrible treatment they mete out to one another’s prisoners. The recent death of a Pakistani youth, Khalid Mahmud, caused great distress among the people in Pakistan. The execution of Sarabjit Singh is bound to inflame passions in India. Nothing can condone the death of Khalid Mahmud and his suffering in prison (an inquiry is due), Pakistan will do well to avoid anything that might be considered as vengeful.

Pakistan is entering a new phase with the formation of the new government. At a time when normalization of ties between the two countries is likely to be high on the new government’s agenda, HRCP urges Pakistan to review Sarabjit’s sentence and avoid actions that might be deemed as retaliation.

Iqbal Haider

Secretary-General