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.

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