Swat: Respect for life first, says HRCP

Press Release, September 25

 

Lahore: While endorsing the need for using effective force to fight terrorism in NWFP, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the authorities to avoid aggravating the already unbearable plight of the civilian population.

In a statement issued here, the HRCP Chairperson said:

 

The human rights situation in Swat is alarming and is getting worse every day. HRCP is shocked and grieved at the loss of life as a result of firing by security forces on a crowd that was only drawing attention to their unbearable suffering.

 

Information available to HRCP reveals that the situation in Swat is harrowing for more than one reason. One the one hand the population is facing a serious threat from militants and on the other hand disruption of electricity, gas and water supply and shortage of edibles have compounded their misery.

 

While the citizens have to put up with the rigours of extended curfew, at some places round the clock, they must have protection against criminals and lawless elements who appear to be enjoying a free hand. In this situation, the people of Swat’s decision to demonstrate in Mingora is a measure of their courage as well as their despair, for which they deserve to be respected and not fired upon.

 

The anxieties of the local community have been fueled by reports that the militants have been able to strengthen their domination in the areas falling under the Matta, Khawazakhela and Kabal police stations and that the authorities themselves appear to be skeptical about the outcome of the operation against them. Almost everywhere the people are astounded by the inability of the law enforcement agencies to track the apparently unhindered movement of the militants.

 

The ordeal of the people can be judged from the killing of at least three individuals, namely Abdul Kabeer Khan, Musa khan and Muhammad Amin for their affiliation to the government. In one case, the victim, brother of a sitting minister, resisted the militants throughout the night and consistently called for help but his cries for help went unheeded. Eventually, he and his family was mercilessly slaughtered. Equally hair-raising is the story of another victim whose child was killed in front of his eyes before he himself was liquidated.

 

HRCP calls for investigation of such cases and for justice to be done. HRCP has no doubt that such murderous acts do not enjoy any religious sanction and their perpetrators deserve to be dealt with collectively. They are themselves responsible for inviting use of force against them. However, it is necessary to ensure that the cost of operation to the civilian population must be drastically controlled and the needs of the internally displaced persons addressed with diligence and sincerity.

 

HRCP believes it is certainly time to seek the help of the UNHCR and the ICRC in mitigating the suffering of the displaced people.

 

This also applies to displaced persons in other parts of the country.

 

There is no gainsaying the fact that hardship caused to non-combatant population and perception of use of disproportionate force, which targets militants and civilians alike, will create more problems than it solves.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

Terrorism a threat to existence of Pakistan: HRCP Council

Lahore, September 23: The Council (governing body) of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has issued the following statement after its two-day session in Peshawar:

The HRCP Council welcomes the departure of the military leadership from the Presidency and the filling in of parliament and key public offices by people’s elected representatives. This marks only the first step towards establishing a democratic order in accordance with the wishes of the people. The concentration of power in the hands of any single individual never bodes well for democracy or a just dispensation. Now there is an urgent need for building and strengthening institutions of governance so that a democratic culture takes root in the country. The supremacy of the parliament needs to be strengthened, the judiciary has to be made truly independent and effective and the Election Commission must be transformed into an autonomous, and multi-member institution.

Lack of good governance causes increased impoverishment of the people, and allows lawless elements to wreck havoc with the rights and interests of the people.

HRCP welcomes the Sindh government’s initiative in including landless women among those entitled to receive land grants. It calls upon the government to make good its promise of abolishing the death penalty and reviving student and trade unions in the real sense of the term.

The Council is deeply worried that an increase in the incidents of terrorism and the devastation caused by them and the spread of militancy have blocked the country’s way to progress and the entire population seems to have been taken hostage. The government of Pakistan must realize its duty in guaranteeing the citizens security of life, liberty and property. This will essentially require a comprehensive strategy which must include sharp intelligence, appropriate use of force, timely political intervention and above all due respect for human rights in the conflict areas. While use of adequate force may often be necessary to counter the wave of violence unleashed by the terrorists, yet it must conform to human rights standards in terms of justification and appropriateness. In particular extrajudicial killings, torture and disproportionate use of force must be avoided at all costs and in all situations. Above all, every effort must be made to prevent harm to innocent and unarmed civilians.

Terrorism is surely a threat to the very existence of Pakistan and must be collectively challenged by all political elements and sincerely backed by the security forces if the country is to overcome this ultimate peril. The recent attack on Marriott Hotel in Islamabad is one serious example in which many innocent people lost their lives. In the conflict zones in Swat and FATA this is a regular feature. The disruption of electricity supply in Swat accompanied by scarcity of water and edibles has made the life of the people incredibly unbearable. So far, the government’s plan of action, if there is one, does not inspire confidence. HRCP finds the government’s crude claims of having saved the lives of the country’s leadership in bad taste. Such statements only reflect officials’ lack of sensitivity and maturity.

The government has not taken any notice of incitement to violence against religious minorities through popular media. This not only adds to the growing sense of vulnerability among the minorities, but has also resulted in several wanton killings.

The issue of enforced disappearances cannot be allowed to hang fire and the democratic government must release all missing persons, or disclose their fate and whereabouts.

The government is yet to put in place implementing legislation to ensure that a human rights treaty it ratified and two others that it signed earlier in the year become legally enforceable in Pakistan.

Above all, HRCP earnestly pleads for abandoning ad hoc relief measures in favour of properly thought out strategies to fight poverty, hunger and joblessness.

Issued on behalf of HRCP Council members

By Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

CPJ: U.S. military frees Afghan journalist from Bagram

Committee to Protect Journalists

330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA Phone: (212) 465‑1004 Fax: (212) 465‑9568 Web: www.cpj.org E-Mail: media@cpj.org

U.S. military frees Afghan journalist from Bagram

New York, September 22, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the U.S. military’s release of imprisoned journalist Jawed Ahmad from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Sunday, 11 months after he was first detained. But CPJ calls again on the U.S. military to end its practice of holding journalists without charge on an open-ended basis.

Ahmad, 22, was never charged with a crime, and military officials have never explained the basis for his prolonged detention. Ahmad, who is known by his nickname Jojo and also uses the surname Yazemi, does not know why he was freed, according to an interview with the Canadian Globe and Mail. Ahmad worked most recently as a field producer for the Canadian broadcaster CTV and had several other freelance clients in the past.

Ahmad said he was detained at a NATO airfield near the southern city of Kandahar where he worked, after being invited there by someone who said he was a U.S. public affairs officer, according to the Globe and Mail. He was later transferred to the U.S.-operated air base at Bagram, he said. He told the newspaper he was beaten, that two of his ribs were broken, and that he was deprived of sleep.

“We are relieved that Jawed Ahmad has been freed and we wish him the best with his return to work,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator. “But he has lost almost a year of his life being held without charge and says he was brutally treated by his captors. His case adds to the U.S. military’s appalling record of detaining working journalists in conflict zones, without a modicum of due process, based on allegations which are shrouded in secrecy and have apparently proved to be unfounded.”

The U.S. military detained Ahmad on October 25, 2007. CPJ publicized his case after being alerted by Carlotta Gall, The New York Times reporter based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who had worked with him. A Pentagon spokesman told CPJ in February that Ahmad had been classified as an “unlawful enemy combatant” but did not provide information about the allegations or evidence against him.

A statement issued today by Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Ahmad had been released because he “was no longer considered a threat.” The statement offered no explanation for the 11-month detention. Ahmad told the Globe and Mail his U.S. interrogators were suspicious of his reportorial contacts with local Taliban. 

CTV News President Robert Hurst issued a statement today to CPJ. “It is startling that U.S. military authorities released Jojo Yazemi on Sunday morning without any explanation about why he was apprehended in the first place and then declared an enemy combatant,” Hurst said. “CTV News is also concerned about his health after he recounted his treatment while in U.S. custody. Our priority now is to get Jojo Yazemi back to Kandahar and reunited with his family.”

CPJ research shows that at least one other journalist remains in U.S. military custody. Freelance photographer Ibrahim Jassam, who was working for Reuters in Iraq, was detained September 2 by U.S. and Iraqi forces; he has not been charged. The U.S. has held dozens of journalists in Iraq, at least 10 of them for prolonged periods, according to CPJ research. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was released in April after a two-year detention on unsubstantiated allegations of collaborating with local insurgents.  

On May 1, Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for Al-Jazeera, was released from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after six years in detention. Al-Haj, also designated an “enemy combatant,” was never charged with a crime.

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.

Bob Dietz  bdietz@cpj.org

Asia Program Coordinator

Madeline Earp mearp@cpj.org

Asia Program Researcher

Committee to Protect Journalists

330 Seventh Ave, 11th floor

New York, NY 10001

+1 212 465 1004

www.cpj.org

HRCP for end to hate-preaching & killing

Press Release, 10 September

 

Lahore: Taking a serious view of the killing of two Ahmedis in Sindh and instigation to murder in a TV programme, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called for urgent action to protect the minorities’ lives and to ensure stoppage of hate-preaching through the media. In a statement issued here today HRCP said:

 

On Monday an eminent Ahmedi physician and cardiologist was shot dead in Mirpurkhas. The next day, another prominent Ahmedi was killed in Nawabshah. The Ahmediya community believes there is a link between these brutal killings and a programme telecast by a private TV channel in which a cleric called for death to Ahmedis and the compere concurred. Even if there is no direct link between incitement to violence on TV and the two murders neither of the offences can be tolerated. The Ahmedi community is within its legal rights to demand protection against instigators of violence against them. The government must ensure that the killers of the Ahmedi citizens are brought to justice and that nobody is allowed to use the media, especially the electronic one, to preach communal hatred and fratricide. The TV channel also has a duty to reign in irresponsible comperes. Failure to do so will confirm its complicity in a heinous crime.

 

Iqbal Haider

Co-chairperson

HRCP for concrete steps to stop FATA raids

Press Release, September 9

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has asked the government to take meaningful steps to prevent loss of life and property in the Tribal Areas in raids by US-led coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.

A statement issued by the Commission on Tuesday said: Attacks in the Tribal Areas, the killing of civilians and violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by the US-led coalition forces have assumed the form of a regular series. Each attack is followed by stereotyped official protests by Islamabad, threats of ‘befitting replies’, statements of condemnation by all and sundry and the occasional summoning of the US envoy to the Foreign Office. Such gestures achieve little, nor do they convince the people of the government’s keenness to protect innocent lives or to assert its sovereignty.

Securing the life of its people is a responsibility the government owes to all its citizens, including those living in the Tribal Areas.

Pakistan must urgently hold earnest negotiations with its allies in the so-called war on terror to ensure that such attacks on its territory and killings of innocent Pakistanis in the Tribal Areas cease. The issue is much too serious to be addressed only through angry and reactive statements after every attack.

It must be emphasised in these talks that such attacks are counter-productive. The killing of innocent people creates hatred and militants faster than any military action can eliminate.

Iqbal Haider

Co-chairperson

HRCP appreciates seats for disabled students at UET Taxila

Press Release, September 3

 

HRCP appreciates seats for disabled students at UET Taxila

 

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has welcomed the creation of two seats for disabled students at the University of Engineering and Technology, Taxila from session 2008 and reiterated its demand for implementing the government quota for disabled students at all educational institutions.

 

The commission had recently drawn attention of the Punjab governor and the chief minister to a number of colleges and universities in the province who were not allocating seats for disabled students as per government policy. It has again called upon them to reserve seats for special students in all institutions in the province.

 

The HRCP said in a statement: the Punjab government should ensure that all disciplines in educational institutions implement the quota for disabled students. Expeditious action would be crucial as admissions to educational institutions are underway and would be completed by the middle of September.

 

The government should also enforce a 2006 decision to waive fees for disabled students to afford them opportunities to access and continue education to fulfill its basic responsibility of providing education for all. 

 

Iqbal Haider

Co-chairperson

HRCP urges PM, NWFP CM to address alarming Swat situation

Press Release, August 29

 

HRCP urges PM, NWFP CM to address alarming Swat situation

 

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has written to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, asking them to urgently address the security situation in Swat district, and ensure that the local population is not targeted by a haphazard military operation and facilitate the internally displaced persons.

 

Following is the text of the letter that HRCP Chairperson Asma Jahangir wrote to the prime minister and the NWFP chief minister.

  

Subject: Alarming situation in Swat district

 

Dear Prime Minister / Chief Minister NWFP,

 

The HRCP has been anxiously following the security situation in Swat district. We are aware that it is a difficult and complex issue but recent developments are extremely alarming. Reports from the District show that the life of the residents is at great risk despite the military operation. Individuals who are capable of building public opinion against militancy and excesses of the security forces are being targeted and some have indeed lost their lives. Others are at risk and can be targeted any moment.

 

According to our information neither the federal nor the provincial government have been able to assist those who are fleeing the area due to the desperate circumstances. We have received worrying reports of attacks on women who are now stranded in the District and despite calls to the security forces have received no protection from them.

 

It is indeed for the government to draw out a law enforcement strategy and their obligation to protect peaceful citizens from militant groups. A genuine and well-planned action against those who have taken the law into their own hands can only be supported and encouraged. However, the realities on the ground show a different picture. It has come to our notice through a number of reliable sources that the military operation is greatly flawed. There are incidents where innocent citizens had to fight for their lives on their own against militant groups while the security forces looked on and failed to protect those under siege. At least in one incident, even the women in the house had to pick up arms to defend themselves and to unsuccessfully save their lives. They were outnumbered by armed militants attacking them and the law enforcement personnel failed to come to their rescue despite several calls. Those who risk their lives to provide information to the security forces on militant groups and criminals were betrayed and many paid for it with their lives. On the contrary, a large number of testimonies have been received by the HRCP indicating that factions within the security forces are working hand in glove with the militants and criminal elements against the interests of the civil population of the area. HRCP was shocked at the desperation expressed by the locals at the failure of the military action and their resolve to organize themselves for defending themselves against armed attacks. This would lead to civil strife and even a greater exodus of those who stayed behind in the hope that the government would act on their behalf rather than on behalf of the militants or external forces that wish to see an operation of any sorts.

 

The locals in the area have pointed out that the operation is without a direction and targeting civilians population rather than the militants. They have given numerous examples where militants could have been apprehended or attacks on civilians could have been averted had the security forces acted with diligence. They insist that there is no targeted operation against militants rather it is a haphazard armed invasion on the people of the District of Swat.

Nevertheless, we feel that all may not be lost and the civilian population can still be saved and supported as the district is still accessible, though under great risk.

HRCP calls upon this government to take urgent and immediate steps to:

 

Provide military convoys and protection to those who wish to evacuate the district and arrange for proper shelter for such internally displaced persons.

 

 That the civilian government both at the federation and in the province must monitor the situation and keep their lines open to the local population who can inform them on the true realities on the ground.

 

A high-powered, multi-party delegation of parliamentarians should visit the area and hold consultations with the population of the District so that a true picture emerges. In particular the high-powered delegation must give ample hearing to women and religious minorities living in the District who are far more vulnerable.

 

It is crucial that all organs of the federal and provincial administration as well as the high-powered delegation address the question of collusion between elements of the security forces and the lawless militants.

 

In view of the seriousness of the situation we are under obligation to share this information and therefore HRCP is compelled to release this letter publicly.

 

Your Excellencies, our organization has been in the forefront in demanding a transition to democracy. It is our belief that only a democratic political set-up has the capacity to address such intricate issues that have built up over the years. This is the foremost challenge for this government and we feel it is our duty to assist you by bringing to your notice authentic information that we receive on a daily basis.

  

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson