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