Tackle the roots of intolerance: HRCP

Lahore, September 2: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has attributed Wednesday’s attacks on Shia processions on Hazrat Ali’s martyrdom day to continued failure of the state to confront the causes and perpetrators of extremism and violence in the name of belief.

In a statement issued on Thursday, HRCP said: “The attacks on Wednesday on a procession of Shias in Lahore, and on a similar procession in Karachi hours earlier, have once again highlighted the fact that besides posing a threat to the integrity and stability of the state the militants operating under the umbrella of belief will inevitably step up violence against the sects they disagree with.

As a rule, such attacks have been followed by an exclusive focus on the security aspect and not at all on the extremist organisations that orchestrate these attacks or the root causes of intolerance. One such organisation has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Lahore. The government may have banned many extremist militant groups in theory, by adding their names to an official list, but it is clear that these groups face little difficulty in continuing their activities in plain sight and retain their ability to strike at will.

Many of the extremist organisations that justify violence and bloodshed in the name of belief are homegrown and are an outcome of local politics. Little has been done to shut down their operations or to confront the movements that had led to the emergence of these organiszations or to rethink the assumptions that enable rank criminals to get away with blue murder in the name of belief.

It must be abundantly clear to all concerned by now that cosmetic half-measures will not do. The root causes of militancy and sectarian violence need to be addressed urgently. The rot will not stop until the government and other institutions somehow discover the courage to stop crimes perpetrated in the name of belief. Until the time that happens, the usual vows of bringing the perpetrators to justice will only cause frustration and rage among the victims and their families and augment the aura of impunity for the killers of innocent people and destroyers of peace.” 

Dr Mehdi Hasan


HRCP for urgent efforts for Dr Aafia’s repatriation

Lahore, September 24: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed dismay at the unusually harsh punishment awarded to Dr Aafia Siddiqui by a US court and demanded that the governments of Pakistan and the United States urgently find a way to repatriate Dr Aafia to Pakistan.

A statement issued by the Commission on Friday said: “It is not for HRCP to cast aspersions on American justice system. It is for the US government to assess the impact of the unusually harsh punishment awarded to Dr Aafia Siddiqui, particularly in view of the absence of direct and credible evidence against her. It must also not be forgotten that Dr Aafia was picked up more than seven years ago and has already suffered much more than even those guilty of heinous crimes usually have to face. The reaction to the US court’s verdict in Pakistan is not difficult to appreciate.

We fear that the verdict will be misunderstood in Pakistan and bring relations between the two allies in the war on terror under increased strain. HRCP appeals to the governments of Pakistan and the United States to urgently find a way out by negotiating Dr Aafia’s repatriation to Pakistan on humanitarian grounds, irrespective of the legal technicalities involved. The humanitarian principles that inspire this request are the same that have quite often been invoked by US leaders to secure the release of their nationals convicted in foreign lands. At the same time, HRCP would like to appeal to leaders of public opinion in Pakistan to conduct their protests against the verdict in a peaceful and responsible manner and stand firmly by the aggrieved family, without trying to make political capital out of their grief and suffering.”

Dr Mehdi Hasan

HRCP finds gaps in response in flood-hit areas

Lahore, September 23: A team of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that visited the flood-hit areas of Multan and Muzaffargarh districts has noted gaps in provision of relief and registration of the affected families for financial assistance.

HRCP Council member Ms. Hina Jilani led the team that visited the flood-affected areas. In many areas, the team found agriculture land still submerged under several feet of floodwater and the affected population living in tents on higher ground, mainly on roads and embankments.

The affected people said that their main problems included the destruction of their houses and means of livelihoods, including cattle and crops. Many had to sell the cattle that had survived the flood at throw-away prices because fodder was either not available or was very expensive. Now they found it hard to start over again as they had no money to buy livestock. They worried about the coming sowing season as the fields need to be cleared and levelled and they also had no resources for seeds, fertilizer and pesticide. In many areas no official had visited the affected people to provide relief or to gather information about their losses.

The tenants of agriculture land in several areas apprehended that although they were the ones who had suffered losses because of crop destruction, only the owners of the land would get the financial assistance from the government, as the tenancy agreements had been made verbally as per the local custom. In many villages, the affected families had begun repairing and rebuilding their houses on their own, from the material retrieved from the debris. However, many people were unwilling to leave the relief camps because they had no resources to rebuild their homes and did not want to be deprived of whatever little they received in the camps.

HRCP received reports that many affected people in Muzaffargarh had not been issued Watan ATM Card, and had effectively been excluded from official support to rebuild their lives, often because their names were not included in the list of the people who qualified for financial assistance. One family said that the local Patwari (land record officer) had asked for a bribe to include their names in the list of people eligible for compensation. Members of the Muzaffargarh bar association informed the team that the floods caused avoidable destruction in the district mainly because the decision to breach embankments was dictated by local influentials to protect agriculture land in their possession, including occupied state land.

The HRCP team noted that other flood-affected areas of the country might be facing problems similar to those found in Multan and Muzaffargarh and called upon the government to urgently address such problems wherever they are found. HRCP teams have been working in all flood-affected districts of the country to assess specific needs in different areas.

HRCP has been sharing the information with the national and international bodies in order to facilitate an appropriate response to the needs at the local level. The teams have also been monitoring delivery of goods.

Dr Mehdi Hasan

HRCP dismayed by lingering row at Bahawalpur collegepolice last month

Lahore, September 22: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed its dismay over the failure to resolve tensions at a medical college in Bahawalpur, where students protesting against electricity outages had been brutally tortured by the police last month.

A statement issued by the Commission on Wednesday said: “It is a matter of serious concern that normalcy has not returned to the Bahawalpur medical college even a month after the torture of students by the police and that students’ living quarters are still being raided and broken into. There is no reason for the matter to have gone unresolved for this long.

HRCP urges the medical college administration and the government to address the matter with the urgency it deserves and allow the students to resume their studies without hindrance. Further, HRCP reiterates its view that the college administration must resist the tendency to rely on coercive force to resolve matters which can and must be addressed through amicable means.”

Dr Mehdi Hasan

Pakistan’s Worsening Displacement Crisis

Islamabad/Brussels, 16 September 2010: Pakistan’s government and international actors must ensure those in flood-devastated conflict zones are urgently granted the assistance they need to survive and to rebuild lives, without the military dictating rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.

Pakistan: The Worsening IDP Crisis , a new briefing on internally displaced persons from the International Crisis Group, highlights how the country not only faces an unprecedented natural disaster, but also confronts the twin challenges of stabilising a fragile democratic transition and countering violent extremism. The civilian government, already tackling an insurgency, and its institutions, neglected during nine years of military rule, lack the capacity and means to provide sufficient food, shelter, health and sanitation without international assistance. But all sides must ensure community-based civil society groups, credible secular non-governmental organisations, and elected representatives lead the process.

“Given the scale of the needs, there may be a temptation among donors to circumvent civilian structures and work directly with the military to deliver aid, but this would be a dangerous choice”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “The military should certainly provide logistical support, but only under control of the civilian government and in support of the latter’s objectives”.

Pakistan’s civilian administrative and humanitarian apparatus is now severely tested by the worst flooding in the country’s history. One fifth of the country and more than 20 million people have been affected, exacerbating a displacement crisis in the conflict zones of north-western Pakistan. Some of worst damage is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the largest numbers of lives have been lost and where homes and infrastructure are devastated.

Relief and rehabilitation efforts should be informed by recent history to be most effective. Following massive displacement in Malakand, including Swat, due to militancy and military operations in 2009, the military led the return process, leading to a discriminatory response, the precipitous return of displaced persons to areas that had not been stabilised, and the collective punishment of families allegedly sympathetic to the militants. Similar policies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have caused 1.4 million to flee, most of whom are unwilling to go back, fearing they will be forced out again. The end result is anger and alienation — fertile ground for the extremists.

 There are very clear concerns, based on past and current practice, that if the Pakistani military were to lead the humanitarian response, beyond rescue operations and immediate emergency needs, it would again subordinate humanitarian concerns to military objectives, with the same security risks emerging as a result.

As the flood waters recede, the political leadership must lead the reconstruction phase, ensuring that local communities help identify priorities and strategies, and that projects are cost-effective and appropriate. The national and provincial parliaments should oversee these efforts, including maintaining accountability over donor and government funds through their public accounts committees.

 “If military objectives dictate rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, a population exhausted by conflict could become a soft target for militants, making stability in the north west even more elusive”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director.