Next president must be non-contentious: HRCP

Press Release, August 25


Lahore:  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has demanded that the country’s next president must be non-contentious for democracy to survive.


A statement by HRCP said: HRCP has consistently called for a transition to democracy and the departure of President Musharraf has been a significant turning point.


The president must be elected by the parliament through a transparent process. HRCP appeals to political parties to make the choice with great wisdom as the country is undergoing serious crises. It reminds the political forces that the democratic process is fragile and still in the very early stages of transition.


The Office of the President must be headed by a person who inspires the confidence of all sections of society. Past experience has proved that any aspirants to the Presidency must also have unqualified credibility. A parliamentary federation demands that the president be a person who is neutral in terms of party politics and disassociate himself or herself from any single political party. There should be no shadow of doubt on his or her past.


This critical time requires that the “symbol of the federation” should be able to build bridges amongst all democratic forces rather than be seen as partisan or a manipulative politician. The struggle against military dictatorship was a collective effort of all democratic forces and, therefore, they have a stake in ensuring that a proper transition to democracy does indeed take place.


The candidature of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari does not fulfill the objective criteria that a president is expected to meet. Apart from the constitutional requirements, democratic conventions must also be observed if true democracy is to be achieved in the near future.


HRCP recognizes that Mr. Zardari has spent many years in prison and been tortured. This alone cannot be a qualification for aspiring for the highest office of the country in the background of the muddy deals and underhand manipulation that has given legitimacy to a National Reconciliation Ordinance granting blanket immunity to political activists.


HRCP fully opposes any form of revenge or victimization but cannot accept indemnities and impunities for past and future holders of public office. The Presidency must in no way be seen as a shelter-home for those accused of serious wrongdoings.  


A few good traditions of the past must be retained and a candidate for the Presidency must declare all his assets and tax returns in public. 


HRCP reminds the Election Commission of Pakistan of its constitutional duty to organize and conduct all elections “honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against”. It welcomes the prompt announcement of an election schedule but laments that the timeframe given for submitting the nomination papers was fixed in an arbitrary manner. There was no consultation with the political parties represented in the parliament. This raises doubts about the motive of an election schedule fixed much before the 30-day deadline was to expire, denying political parties the opportunity to plan for the eventuality of the breakup of the coalition government by Wednesday the 6th of September.


HRCP repeats that a healthy transition to democracy is in the interest of the political parties. They must not cut the branch on which they sit. A president with doubtful integrity would lead to precisely that. 


Asma Jahangir



Women’s execution in Peshawar worries HRCP

Press Release, August 21 


LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has expressed its shock and alarm at Wednesday’s killing in Peshawar of two women by Taliban moral police and at the government’s inability to prevent the spread of such brazen violations of individual rights, especially women’s. A note left with the women’s bodies, accusing them of immoral behaviour, warned others of similar repercussions if they didn’t reform.


A statement by the Chairperson of the commission said on Thursday: “The killing of women by extremists and the Taliban over suspicion of their character, even for talking to men outside of their family, has not been unknown in the Tribal Areas. The killing yesterday is perhaps the first of its kind in Peshawar where the Taliban have repeated their Tribal Area strategy of advertised executions.


Extremists taking lives of human beings at whim is alarming, but even more disturbing is the fact that the government seems unable and sometimes unwilling to stop them.

Among obvious things it points to the feeble writ of the state — that needs to be strengthened across the country — receding in the face of Taliban advances beyond the Tribal Areas. It is beyond belief that the Government, which presented itself as helpless to enforce their writ in Tribal Areas, is letting this blatant violation in settled areas of the country.


The state can certainly do something better than abandoning its citizens to live in areas controlled by Taliban moral police.


Because of lack of previous action, the state must immediately demonstrate that it has both the ability and willingness to ensure that extremist do not have the audacity to deny the citizens basic freedom and rights, including the right to life.


HRCP demands immediate intervention and that swift action is taken to prevent future attacks and thwart Taliban from occupying further territory.


Asma Jahangir


HRCP hails event

Press Release, August 18


Lahore: While hailing General (R) Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from presidentship as the logical result of the people’s verdict of February 18, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has stressed the sobering effect of the development and reminded the coalition partners that satisfaction of the people’s heightened expectations will now demand greater sincerity and resoluteness than before. In a statement issued here today, the HRCP chairperson, Asma Jahangir, said:


Although General (R) Musharraf’s decision to quit before getting impeached will be considered one of his rare acts of kindness to the people, no tears will be shed for him. If he really cared for Pakistan as much as he claimed in his long peroration today, he should have resigned much earlier, as soon as the February 18 results were out. Indeed he might well have desisted from subverting the constitution nine years ago. But while the coalition partners and the people at large have good reason to celebrate their victory, the present is a sobering moment. Now the people’s expectations, already high after February 18, will soar even higher. The government will be tested to the extreme in meeting these expectations. Unity of democratic forces, effective supremacy of parliament, and consolidation of institutions of governance, the judiciary foremost among them, will be essential for pulling the state out of the mire created by a dictatorship. The issues that will brook no delay are: steps to fight ongoing insurgency in the north and the plight of the internally displaced persons as a result thereof; a crash programme to deal with the economic crisis, especially the rising cost of living and unemployment; and the urgency of guaranteeing the security of life and liberty. The people also must not forget that constant vigil is the price of liberty. And of progress too.


Asma Jahangir


Pakistan must ensure justice to Dr. Aafia; probe her children’s disappearance: HRCP

Press Release, August 12


Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urges the government of Pakistan to fulfil its duty of ensuring that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui receives full justice, necessary facilities and immediate medical attention. HRCP demands an official investigation into Dr. Siddiqui’s, and her children’s, disappearance and details of their detention – from the point of being picked up in 2003 till the present. HRCP also emphasises that Dr. Siddiqui should not be repatriated to Pakistan against her wishes and be given the full opportunity to contest her case in the US. The fear is that once she has been repatriated to Pakistan she will be pressurised by the intelligence agencies to maintain silence and she will not be able to secure justice. Though it may be a relief that she has been traced there is no information about Dr. Siddiqui’s children. The government must also disclose the whereabouts of her children.


The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has been following the case of disappearance of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her three children since early 2003. The information collected by HRCP at that particular time was that in March 2003 Dr. Siddiqui, along with her three children, left her mother’s house in a taxi on her way to the Karachi airport and was picked up by an intelligence agency. What she was accused of when picked up has not been made public. Strangely, the only charge against her is an alleged assault against her captors while in custody.


A statement was issued expressing concern on this most heinous violation of human rights and HRCP demanded an explanation from the government. The parents of Dr. Siddiqui were also contacted, who were under sever threat of the intelligence agencies and warned not to speak either to the press or any human rights organization. At one point office bearers of the HRCP contacted the family of Dr. Siddiqui and arranged to meet but at the last minute they expressed their “inability” to see the office bearers despite the fact that the meeting was arranged at their request. Since then HRCP representatives have been in touch with the family and filed a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court which is still pending. The petition was heard on the 8th of March 2007 and at several subsequent hearings the government expressed their ignorance of the whereabouts of Dr. Siddiqui and her children.


HRCP is convinced that Dr. Siddiqui and her three children were picked up from Karachi as is evident from the initial reports and urges the government to now play a positive role in insuring that she gets full justice, fair trial as well as compensation from the government of United States for the mistreatment meted out to her. HRCP appreciates that the Pakistan mission has sought consular access to her yet these belated efforts can only be compensated if the Pakistan government is able to intervene in the courts in the US and submit an honest investigation report


HRCP will remain in touch with the legal team defending Dr. Siddiqui and will make all efforts to submit its own reports through her lawyers.


The violation of the rights of Dr. Siddiqui and her children, and countless other missing persons, is squarely the responsibility of the government of Pakistan. There is enough evidence indicating that she was initially picked up by the intelligence agencies in Pakistan and therefore it is not only the government of the United States but also the government of Pakistan that must be made accountable for this crime.


HRCP fears that the fate of Dr. Siddiqui will be the same as hundreds of others who have disappeared, been tortured and rendered to third countries without following the legal process. Regrettably petitions of hundreds of people in almost similar circumstances are pending in the courts of Pakistan and not in one single case has full justice been delivered. No one has received compensation neither have the perpetrators been brought to justice.


Asma Jahangir

Redeem all your pledges, says HRCP

Press Release, August 8


Lahore: Commenting on their Thursday’s decisions, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the members of the ruling coalition to redeem all their pledges to establish democracy and supremacy of parliament, restore judges and the independence of the judiciary, and secure the people’s release from grinding poverty and unemployment, with the seriousness that their obligation demands. In a statement issued here today HRCP Chairperson Asma Jahangir said:


On Thursday the leaders of the coalition parties stopped their gyrations and chose to move in a direction the people can recognize and understand. It was time they did so and arrested the process of the citizens’ frustration at lack of the new government’s interest in honouring the electorate’s unmistakable verdict of February 18. They will be forgiven their dithering over several precious months if they redeem their pledges with the seriousness and the sense of urgency their responsibilities demand. These pledges are: a complete break from authoritarianism, transition to democratic governance and establishment of the supremacy of parliament; restoration of judges and independence of the judiciary; and a concerted campaign to alleviate the socio-economic plight of the people, especially to secure their release from grinding poverty, unemployment and the various forms of denial of their basic rights and freedoms. For the citizens elections and change of regime are not meant to provide only for the advancement of a few, nor are they matters for academic quibbling or rhetorical flourishes, these are merely mile posts on their journey towards freedom, security and prosperity. The coalition leaders’ earnestness in resolutely pursuing the course they have chosen alone will guarantee them the public support without which the state cannot achieve anything. Besides, no political arrangement can survive by adding fresh pledges to older, unfulfilled commitments. The conseques of allowing the latest resolution to meet a fate similar to that of the Charter of Democracy or the Murree Declaration will be too dreadful to be imagined.


Asma Jahangir