HRC membership: HRCP expects Pakistan will improve human rights record

Press release, May 29, 2008

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is happy to see Pakistan win membership for a second term to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). It has keenly followed the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan carried out by UNHRC. HRCP hopes that the government will honor the commitments it made and follow up the recommendations submitted by UNHRC. It urges Pakistan to play a constructive role in the world body and improve its human rights record. Human rights bodies expect members of UNHRC to act in a responsible manner and to deepen human rights values at the national and international level.

 

HRCP welcomes some undertakings made by the government of Pakistan. The setting up of an independent national human rights body according to the Paris principles is a step in the right direction. Its effectiveness will depend on the selection of Commissioners and the mandate that the Commission is entrusted with. Members of such commissions must have a sound knowledge of human rights principles and must be individuals of integrity. This membership of the Commission must maintain a gender balance and include minorities. The Commission must have a countrywide jurisdiction and should be able to conduct investigations against allegations of human rights violations carried out by all categories of security forces.

It is encouraging that the government has undertaken to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearances. This is a positive development. It will lend credibility to the new government as it has promised to investigate cases of disappearances. Equally encouraging was the statement made by the government at the UNHRC that it was working on a proposal to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment.

However, the government’s position on the overall issue of death penalty remains ambivalent. It refuses to recognize that the issue of imposition of death penalty was linked to human rights. It made a tall claim that death penalty was imposed after exhaustion of all remedies through due process. HRCP vehemently disagrees.

Safeguards and restrictions to the imposition of death penalty is a universal and recognized human rights principle. It is a fundamental right to life. Capital punishment in Pakistan has not been imposed with caution. Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of prisoners in death cell. At present over 7,500 persons, including a few women are awarded capital punishments. There is sufficient evidence and research to show that due process, safeguards and restrictions imposed under customary international law have not been applied to those convicted to capital punishment.

Pakistan’s representative to the UNHRC made several misleading statements. She assured the members of the UNHRC that while preparing for the Universal Periodic Review the government held wide consultations with human rights bodies in the country. She also assured the Human Rights Council that human rights defenders were not being obstructed or allowed to operate freely. HRCP takes a serious exception to it. The government did not even attempt to hold any dialogue with Pakistan’s human rights organizations during this process. Several human rights defenders were beaten, imprisoned, and tortured in the last few years. Even today, NGOs are not being able to operate freely and are threatened in certain parts of the country. The government has not taken any action against the perpetrators. HRCP expects democratic governments to portray a true picture of the human rights situation in the country and to resist the temptation of undermining recognized human rights norms.

Embarrassing and unconvincing statements were also made in the context of religious minorities. Pakistan’s representative to the UNHRC tried her utmost to convince the Council that incidents of abuse against religious minorities were insignificant. The representatives claimed that the penal code only contained provisions for the proscription of actions and statements that would offend all religions and these laws applied to all without distinction based on faith. In 2007, HRCP has documented several cases of abuse and human rights violations against religious minorities. Reports of demolition and occupation of minority religious sites have also been made public. Pakistan Penal Code specifically prescribes punishments against the Ahmediaya community and discriminates against religious minorities.

Another faux pas made by Pakistan’s representative was to deny the existence of caste system. There are several hundred so-called low-caste Hindus living and being exploited in Sindh.

Pakistani representative, though, admitted and regretted that incitement to hatred against other religions was being promoted in some mosques. She defended inaction and lack of legislation on the plea that “religious sentiments run high in Pakistan”. HRCP regrets that this approach only emboldens those who preach violence and advocate hatred in the name of religion. A large number of such preachers are government employees and inaction of the government only indicates its approval of such hate speech.

HRCP rejects the government’s position at the UNHRC regarding the Hadood Ordinances. It is the obligation of a government to protect women from being abused and exploited. The law of Zina does precisely that. The government is misleading itself by denying that the vulnerability of women being accused of Zina is not a violation of their right. Similarly, marital rape is a crime and not a right or privilege of the offender.

The government of Pakistan also misled the UNHRC by assuring it that security forces were trained in Humanitarian Law and that alleged human rights violations by them were investigated as well as precautions taken to avoid “collateral damage”. HRCP has authentic reports of disappearances, torture, and illegal detention carried out by the security forces with impunity. A large number of non-combatant have been targeted and killed by the security forces and so far, no inquiry or investigation has been carried out. There are hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons who have been virtually abandoned by the government after they left their homes following indiscriminate use of force by the security forces.

HRCP urges the newly elected democratic government to paint a true picture and to acknowledge the large-scale human rights violations committed by the Musharraf regime. By glossing over the dark past, the government will only add salt to the wounds of the victims.

 

I. A. Rehman, Secretary General

 

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Balochistan – looking for answers

A very interesting read on the FAST Rising Blog. A fact-finding mission carried out by 4 young persons into the Balochistan province to meet the people, look for answers, understand opinions, and offer respect and friendship to their ignored neighbours – The Feeling in Balochistan.

A second blog, ALE-Xpressed!, written by one of the four travellers, has the post Baluchistan, as I saw it!, which gives a more personal review and discusses the meetings in a bit more detail. This post also has photographs and videos. (Photograph from album “Balochistan – FASTRising’s Fact Finding Mission” by ALE)

HRCP consultation calls for a crash plan to secure workers rights

Press Release, May 16

Karachi: Legislation necessary for the implementation of the recently, ratified International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, immediate convening of tripartite labor conference to remove the impediments to the enforcement of the workers’ rights, adoption of a plan for land reform, so as to protect the rights of the tenants and cultivators, and speedy acceptance of the charter of labor rights adopted by workers representatives on March 30, are the main recommendations of a broad based consultation with representatives of workers and fisher folk organizations, sponsored by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Karachi today.

The meeting attended by nearly one hundred representatives of trade unions, fisher folk forum and human rights activists, welcomed the government decision to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and demanded speedy adoption of legislation so that the people of Pakistan could realize the rights recognized in the covenant. The participants specially emphasized the need to recognize the right to work, which includes the right to work of one’s choice, the rights of workers to their economic development, the right to safe and healthy working conditions, the right to form trade unions, women’s right to equal wages for equal work, and the right to social security.

The meeting endorsed the labor charter adopted by labor organizations in March this year and suggested that priority should be given to withdrawal of all restraints on the right to form unions, extension of social security network, consolidation of labor laws as recommended by the Shafi-ur-Rehman commission, implementation of ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labor and revision of ILO 2002 to bring this law in harmony with workers’ inalienable rights. In the opinion of the participants the implementation of the Bonded Labor System Abolition Act needed to be reviewed. It was necessary to provide for the settlement of liberated haris. They had a right to be allotted land so that they could utilize their skills.

The meeting strongly urged the government to immediately convene a tripartite labor conference to resolve issues concerning the country’s work force.

The meeting regretted that little was being said about the plight of agricultural workers, tenants and landless peasants. The meeting called for a new land utilization policy, fixation of a fair ceiling on land holdings and distribution of land among men and women who till the land. The government was also asked to ensure implementation of the ILO convention on the agricultural workers right to form union.

The government was also urged to pay serious attention to the continued exploitation of Pakistan’s fisher folk. The policy of handing over sea-shore to so called developers was severely criticized along with the policy of favoring foreign fishing organizations at the cost of the country’s fishing community.

Secretary General HRCP

Govt-Taliban deal worries HRCP

Press release, May 14

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has expressed reservations about the reported terms of agreement between the NWFP government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Swat. The NWFP government negotiating by giving concessions to militant elements engaged in terrorizing civilians not only glorifies them and their illegal acts but also encourages them. The government’s reconciliatory approach towards those using violence is seen as an incentive to other militants to raise arms against the State and manage a bargaining position. It would be unfortunate if talks between the provincial government and the Taliban lead to a clean slate for armed elements responsible for bombings girls’ schools, NGO outfits and businesses.

HRCP encourages dialogue but not at the cost of granting impunity to perpetrators of human rights abuses. Militants anywhere cannot be treated any differently from other citizens and given a higher status, in imposing their own brand of Islam, laws and morality.

By imposing the Fazalullah brand of Islam in Malakand division the government is playing with fire. It abdicates it responsibility to protect its citizens, particularly women and religious minorities from being persecuted in the name of religion. Conceding in Malakand will not be the end of the story. The adjoining areas are bound to be affected and religious bigotry will travel throughout the country.

HRCP warns that such delicate issues should not be decided from a position of weakness and for the sake of a compromise.

Secretary-General HRCP

HRCP condemns fresh attacks on rights

Press release, May 12

 

Lahore: While condemning the restrictions on the Geo TV and denial of licence to its English channel as the opening of a new front against the media and the restrictions on lawyers in Karachi as reneging on pledges to the people, HRCP has warned the government that such tactics will aggravate the national crisis and add to the people’s frustration. In a statement issued here today, HRCP Chairperson Asma Jahangir and Co-chairperson Iqbal Haider have said:

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan unequivocally condemns the reported directive to the Geo TV to refrain from reporting or discussing certain developments and Pemra’s refusal to grant licence to its English channel. Regardless of the source of these restrictions they constitute an assault on media freedom that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. That the judiciary should start wielding the hatchet against the media bodes ill for both and we hope reason will prevail before the situation worsens.

 

As if the opening of a new front against the media were not enough, the government has deemed it appropriate to observe the anniversary of the May 12, 2007 carnage in Karachi with use of force to prevent a peaceful demonstration by lawyers in that city. The incident amounts to reneging on democratic sounding pledges made to the people only a few weeks ago. It seems necessary to warn the authorities responsible for reviving authoritarian tactics that attacks on the people’s most fundamental liberties will boomerang on them. The times demand earnest endeavours to alleviate the plight of the people. The country cannot afford any continuation of the dictatorial policies that have brought the nation to the present pass.

 

 

Iqbal Haider Co-Chairperson

Asma Jahangir Co-Chairperson

To honour the memory of ” DIDI”

DIDI

 

To honour the memory of ” DIDI”, Nirmala Deshpande, a condolence meeting is being held at Dorab Patel Auditorium of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 107- Tipu Block, Lahore, on Wednesday, 7th May 2008, at 5: 15 pm. You are requested to please attend.

 

 

Kindly inform other friends about this meeting.

HRCP delegation meets ANP Sindh President for consultation on HR

A delegation of HRCP met with the Sindh President of Awami National Party, at Mardan House on April 30, 2008

HRCP has been holding consultations on human rights issues confronting the country. With a new democratically elected government in power, HRCP believes it is time to share concerns and proposals with political leaders.

 

Therefore, a delegation of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan comprising of Mr. Asad Iqbal Butt, Council Member of HRCP, Mr. Amarnath Motumal, Council Member of HRCP, Mr. Ejaz Ahsan, Program Coordinator, HRCP and Mr. Kashan Kashif had a meeting with Mr. Shahi Syed, President ANP Sindh at Mardan House on April 30, 2008.

 

HRCP delegation shared a copy of policy statement of HRCP on critical issues of human rights, for the consideration and support of ANP leadership . This policy statement was adopted by the General Body at HRCP’s Annual General Meeting held recently.

 

Mr. Shahi Syed promised moving necessary resolutions and bill for legislation wherever required, in the federal parliament as well as in the provincial assemblies for expeditious implementation of the recommendations of HRCP on human rights issues.

 

Mr. Asad Iqbal Butt, Council Member of HRCP also presented the recently published, Annual Report of HRCP “State of Human Rights in 2007” to Mr. Shahi Syed.