HRCP team finds tense calm in Gojra

Lahore, July 30: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has stated that although peace prevails in Gojra ahead of the anniversary of last year’s grisly attacks on Christians there, that peace is largely due to the presence of a strong police contingent. HRCP has emphasised the urgent need to find ways to secure inter-faith harmony on sincere and durable basis.

The observations were made in the report of an HRCP fact-finding mission to Gojra. The report, entitled, An Uncertain Peace, was released to the media on Friday. The HRCP team had visited Gojra last week and met the affected families, journalists, religious leaders and members of the local administration to determine the status and adequacy of compensation for the affected families; the status of prosecution of the accused; and the state of inter-communal relations in the area a year after the Gojra attacks on August 1 last year. The visiting team found that most of the torched houses and a destroyed church had been reconstructed by the provincial government and the standard of construction appeared to be satisfactory. However, the partially destroyed houses had not been rebuilt and only one-third of the compensation promised to families of the completely destroyed houses had been given and no timeframe had been given for payment of the balance. Furthermore, although police have submitted Challan (case file) for trial, but there is no indication of when proceeding would begin.

The team noted that the local Christian community felt that it was being pressurised to reach a compromise and withdraw the case against the accused. “The witnesses in the case are under greater pressure and may not appear in court if the trial is delayed for much longer or if their security is not guaranteed,” the report stated, adding that the Christians of the area apprehended that conviction of the accused might lead to a backlash against the local Christian population. The HRCP team learned about efforts by the Muslim and Christian communities and the local administration to promote peace and harmony as well as attempts by extremist elements to inflame emotions.

“Peace in Gojra is largely due to the presence of a strong police contingent and the obvious realization by the Muslim community that disruption of order in the present situation will have a bad effect on the fate of those facing trial. Neither of these two factors is permanent. Ways will have to be found to secure the parties’ sincere conversion to inter-faith harmony,” the report concluded.

I. A. Rehman

Changes in anti-terror law must not undermine rights: HRCP

Lahore, July 28: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern that some of the changes proposed in the anti-terrorism law are not only contrary to due process they will also cause derogation of human rights, and called upon parliament to ensure adequate safeguards to prevent abuse by law enforcement agencies. A statement issued by HRCP on Wednesday said: “While the bill introduced in the Senate to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 is largely a reproduction of the 2009 ordinance on the subject, it has several new provisions that will cause anxiety to defenders of rule of law. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan understands the need to strengthen the law to deal with terrorist activities and terrorist groups, particularly continued operation of proscribed groups under new names. However, we are seriously concerned at the enlargement of powers of police and other law enforcement agencies, particularly in view of their persistent disregard of human rights and their inability to deal with crime in a scientific, non-violent manner. We have serious concerns regarding the provision of detention for 90 days for inquiry and the downgrading of the investigation officers—sub-inspectors are proposed to be tasked with such inquiries now, instead of inspectors under the prevailing law. HRCP has serious objections to the move to grant sweeping powers to police to tap phones and access personal information in absence of any safeguards for privacy and without adequate oversight. The Commission calls upon all members of parliament to make every effort to ensure that human rights are not the first casualty in the state’s questionable efforts to curb terrorism. They must also make certain that adequate safeguards are provided so that inefficiency and abuse of authority by police do not lead to denial of rights to the people.” Dr Mehdi Hasan Chairperson

HRCP slams closure of train services

Lahore, July 26: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has criticised the recent decision to discontinue a number of popular train services, the manner of taking such important decisions and the apparent disregard for the needs and interests of the people.In a statement issued on Monday, HRCP said: “The decision to discontinue train services on several routes is a matter of great concern to the people, especially those who still find travel by train convenient and affordable and the large number of railway employees who may be rendered jobless. This matter cannot be dismissed as a mere departmental problem. The importance of the issue not only merited deliberations by the entire cabinet at the highest level, but also consultation with the people likely to be affected. Issues including the time, cost and, at times, even availability of alternative means needed to be considered.

The reason cited for discontinuing the popular services—unavailability of locomotives—is nothing short of scandalous. The shortage of locomotives has not occurred overnight and ending train routes is certainly not the only way to address that. Neither is that a sustainable solution.

The decision is bound to affect the people but also has grave implications for the state. Its attitude of riding roughshod over matters of critical public importance is bound to undermine its authority.

That a service is not generating enough revenue may be the overriding or only concern for a business enterprise, but the state is not a village grocery store and it must honour its obligation to provide essential public services, even if it has to bear part of the cost.
HRCP calls for a review of the decision and for the urgent need for inclusive decision-making in consultation with the affected people.”

Dr Mehdi Hasan

HRCP alarmed over action targeting HEC chair’s family

Lahore, July 19: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed serious concern over the manner in which action has been taken against relations of Javed Leghari, chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), at a time when the HEC is seeking verification of academic certificates of parliamentarians, and asked the government to desist from strong-arm tactics.

In a statement issued on Monday, HRCP said: “The arrest of HEC Chairman Javed Leghari’s brother, grant of bail to him in one case and instant arrest in another, raid on the HEC chairman’s house and arrest of his servants reek of vengeful motives at a time when the HEC is part of a probe into authenticity of academic certificates of parliamentarians.

The corruption charges that are being cited as the ground for action against Leghari’s brother are more than two years old. The fact that little action had been taken with regard to those charges until the HEC moved to seek verification by universities of parliamentarians’ academic certificates leads one to the disturbing conclusion that these actions are a signal to the HEC to back off.

Though such strong-arm tactics have been the norm under military dictatorships, they cannot be tolerated in a democratic dispensation.

While actions in accordance with due process of law are to be welcomed, those aimed at persecution rather than prosecution also need to be condemned. HRCP strongly protests such strong-arm tactics and calls upon all democratic forces to unequivocally oppose them and act in a proactive manner not only to raise their voice for protection of people’s rights but also guard against people’s trust in democracy from being undermined.

Dr Mehdi Hasan

No provincial autonomy sans autonomy in services: HRCP

Lahore, July 13: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has asked the government to consider legitimate demands of Provincial Civil Services (PCS) officers and emphasized that provincial autonomy cannot be realized without ensuring effective autonomy in services.

In a statement issued on Monday, HRCP said: “PCS officers across Pakistan have long been agitating that prospects of the two civil services—central and provincial—are hugely skewed in favour of District Management Group (DMG) officers. Many of the points they raise deserve serious consideration.

Disparities between the two services in prerequisites for promotion, as well as in privileges, such as housing, are glaring. PCS officers recruited in Grade 17 have to wait for 16 to 20 years for promotion to the next grade, while DMG officers recruited in the same grade are promoted to Grade 18 in five years. While there is no requirement for Grade 17 DMG officers to undergo training to qualify for promotion, PCS officers have to fulfill the condition of mandatory training for promotion from Grade 17 to 18. Training has still not been imparted to the 1996 batch of PCS officers of grade 17 from Punjab. It is difficult to understand the rationale for not arranging the required training for PCS for decades. Such inordinate delays have given credence to the belief that trainings are deliberately not arranged so as to keep the PCS officers from fulfilling the eligibility criterion for promotion. Similarly, though PCS officers have largely the same exposure and functions, their share of foreign scholarships, trainings and visits is miniscule.

DMG officers with around five years of service are routinely given important assignments where senior PCS officers with working experience of over 20 years are made to serve under them. In many districts, Grade 19 PCS officers are serving under Grade 18 DMG district coordination officers (DCOs). The number of DMG officers on other important posts is also disproportionately high. In the province of Punjab alone, 37 of the 42 secretaries are from the DMG cadre, and not a single one from among PCS officers.

PCS officers blame a formula mentioned in the unsigned minutes of the Inter-Provincial Coordination Committee in 1993 for overriding the seat-sharing arrangement between federal and provincial services provided under the rules.

HRCP’s concerns not only include unfair treatment but also that provincial autonomy cannot be realized without effective administrative autonomy. Continued appointments of officers from federal services to key decision-making slots in the provinces in large numbers hardly demonstrates commitment to principles of provincial autonomy. The government must urgently revisit the scheme of things to ensure that provinces get a greater say in internal decision-making in line with the move for greater autonomy and devolution of power to the provinces. ”

Dr Mehdi Hasan

HRCP alarmed over labour leader’s murder

Lahore, July 9: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed serious concern over the murder of labour leader Mustansar Randhawa and his brother in Faisalabad and called upon the government to track down and try the culprits and to prevent violence against those raising their voice for labour’s rights.

In a statement issued on Friday, HRCP said: “The murder of Mustansar Randhawa, a leader of textile and power loom workers in Faisalabad, and his brother, Naseer, is a stark reminder of the risks labour leaders and human rights defenders face in Pakistan.
The state is under an obligation to protect the lives of all human beings, but individuals that are exposed to specific threats deserve additional protection measures. Mustansar had been receiving death threats reportedly from power looms and textile mill owners for several days, apparently because of his role in orgainzing workers in the area.

The labour movement in Pakistan has long been protesting in a peaceful manner for the rights of workers who find themselves squeezed by the economic downturn, lack of benefits, poor and unsafe working conditions, and wages that bear no relation with the escalating cost of living and inflation. The government is duty-bound to ensure not only that workers get their rights, but also that they are not prevented from raising their voice for such entitlments.

The government must ensure that the killers of Mustansar and his brother do not enjoy impunity. Failure to apprehnd and punish the killers would convey the message that the barrel of the gun is the most effective means to further one’s interests. It is in the interest of the state to do all it can to prevent that message from taking root.”
Dr Mehdi Hasan

Punishment under fatwa declared illegal

Friday, July 09,2010

 DHAKA: The High Court on Thursday declared illegal and unlawful any extrajudicial punishment in the name of ‘fatwa’ (religious edict).
Delivering the judgment upon a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) writ petition, a division bench comprising Justice Syed Mahmud Hosain and Justice Gobinda Chandra Thakur considered as offender whoever declares such extrajudicial punishment.
The bench directed the government to take legal action in accordance with the Penal Code and other relevant laws against the perpetrators of such offence, making its rule issued earlier absolute.

The court in its judgment observed that any extrajudicial punishment in the name of ‘fatwa’ (Islamic cleric’s edict) is conflicting with the Constitution and other laws in force in the country.

A person who will declare such punishment and those who will be involved in the process would be considered as offender and abettor
respectively and both should be brought to justice, the court order said. Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), BRAC, Naripakkha, Nijera Kori and three lawyers filed the identical PIL writ petitions.
The PIL petitioners moved the petition following a Banchharampur (Brahmanbaria) datelined report published May 22 in the daily Prothom Alo, captioned ‘Damsel gets 101 floggings, 4 arrested’.

Earlier, on January 1 in 2001, the High Court had ruled for the first time that any ‘fatwa’ or legal opinion not given by a court is unauthorized and illegal.

According to the HC ruling, ‘fatwa’ means legal opinion of a lawful person or authority.
But the legal system in Bangladesh empowers only the courts to decide all questions relating to legal opinion on the Muslim law and other laws in force.

Barrister Sara Hossain, Barrister Mahmud Shafique and advocate Salauddin Dolon appeared for the PIL petitioners.