HRCP seminar demands focus on civic education

Lahore, November 23: Schoolchildren’s education in elements of civics must begin at an elementary level to instill in them a sense of good citizenship and the primary curriculum and textbooks must sow the seeds of tolerance, gender equality and human rights, a seminar on ‘Civic Education in Schools’ organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has concluded.

 The seminar was attended by experienced educationists, senior teachers, curriculum experts and human rights observers, a press statement issued by HRCP said on Tuesday. The seminar took note of the fact that civic education at schools now starts in the ninth class and emphasised a review of the curriculum to carefully introduce education in civic matters at the primary level.

The participants also recommended that civics must be made a compulsory subject because of its significance for good citizenship, regardless of the profession one chooses. While the participants generally criticised the overloading of textbooks with essays on religion and moral preaching, one teacher argued that since Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and the curriculum provided for religious instruction even outside the religious courses the teachers could not be blamed for the prevalent focus of education.

A participant belonging to the executive branch of the government argued that the main issue was not curriculum, but divisions, fissures and disconnect between instruction in schools and social reality. He also made a point that not much could be achieved by curriculum reform because only the very poor people sent their children to public schools and they did not merit much more than what they were getting. The seminar recommended a critical evaluation of the 2006 social studies / Pakistan studies curriculum in respect of citizenship education. They demanded that the government ensure that primary curriculum and textbooks sow the seeds of citizenship education, containing religious and political tolerance, gender equality, human rights, basic principles of citizenship and care for the environment.

 The government was asked to remove time gap between policy formulation and implementation. The need for organising periodic refresher courses for teachers on social studies and to improve the examination system to discourage learning by rote was stressed. The seminar recommended that the government take out the chapter on Islamic education from National Education Policy 2009. The participants strongly urged the government to revise the National Textbooks and Learning Material Policy 2007 in view of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The participants recommended recourse to courts of law to challenge violations of religious rights in learning material. Finally, the seminar decided that an expert group would be formed not only to carry out a detailed critique of civic education in schools but also to prepare alternative/model learning material.

Dr Mehdi Hasan
Chairperson

Pakistan: Repeal Blasphemy Law

Legal Discrimination Emboldens Extremists

(New York, November 23, 2010) – Pakistan’s government should immediately introduce legislation to repeal the country’s blasphemy law and other discriminatory legislation, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also take legal action against Islamist militant groups responsible for threats and violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups, Human Rights Watch said.

While international and Pakistani human rights groups have long called for the repeal of the blasphemy law, it has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as a consequence of a death sentence imposed on November 8, 2010, on Aasia Bibi, an illiterate farmhand from Sheikhupura district in Punjab province. She was charged under the blasphemy law after a June 2009 altercation with fellow farm workers who refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was unclean because she was a Christian. She is the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy, though others have been charged and given lesser sentences.

“Aasia Bibi has suffered greatly and should never have been put behind bars,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The injustice and fear the blasphemy law spawns will only cease when this heinous law is repealed.”

President Asif Ali Zardari ordered a review of the case in the face of domestic and international outrage. Government officials have indicated publicly that Zardari is expected to use his constitutional authority to pardon her.

Pakistan’s “Blasphemy Law,” as section 295-C of the penal code is known, makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. In 2009, authorities charged scores of people under the law, including at least 50 members of the Ahmadiyya community, a heterodox sect that claims to be Muslim but has been declared non-Muslim under Pakistani law. Many of these individuals remain in prison.

Legal discrimination against religious minorities and the failure of Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments to address religious persecution by Islamist groups effectively enables atrocities against these groups and others who are vulnerable. The government seldom brings charges against those responsible for such violence and discrimination. Research by Human Rights Watch indicates that the police have not apprehended anyone implicated in such activity in the last several years.

Social persecution and legal discrimination against religious minorities has become particularly widespread in Punjab province. Human Rights Watch urged the provincial government, controlled by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, to investigate and prosecute as appropriate campaigns of intimidation, threats, and violence against Christians, Ahmadis, and other vulnerable groups.

On November 18, armed assailants opened fire at an Ahmadiyya mosque in Lahore, the Punjab capital. The mosque had no police protection despite a May 28 attack on two Ahmadiyya mosques in the city that killed 94 people and injured well over a hundred. Those attacks were believed to have been carried out by groups affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban.

The November 18 attack did not result in further loss of life only because of private security provided by the mosque management. Local residents told Human Rights Watch that the police initially sought to portray the attack falsely as a consequence of a dispute within the Ahmadiyya community and only made arrests when the mosque authorities provided security camera footage identifying the attackers.

“The Punjab provincial government is either in denial about threats to minorities or is following a policy of willful discrimination,” Hasan said. “Provincial law enforcement authorities need to put aside their prejudices and protect religious minorities who are clearly in serious danger from both the Taliban and sectarian militant groups historically supported by the state.”

Since the Pakistani military government of General Zia-ul-Haq unleashed a wave of persecution in the 1980s, violence against religious minorities has never really ceased. Attackers kill and wound Christians and Ahmadis, in particular, and burn down their homes and businesses. The authorities arrest, jail, and charge members of minority communities, heterodox Muslims and others, with blasphemy and related offenses because of their religious beliefs, as a means of transacting vendettas and settling scores. In several instances, the police have been complicit in harassing and framing false charges against members of these groups or stood by as they were attacked.

Human Rights Watch urged concerned governments and intergovernmental bodies to press the Pakistani government to repeal sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which includes the blasphemy law and anti-Ahmadiyya laws. They should also urge the government to prosecute those responsible for planning and executing attacks against religious minorities.

“Continued use of the blasphemy law is abominable,” Hasan said. “As long as such laws remain on the books, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Pakistan, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/asia/pakistan

For more information, please contact:
In Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan (English, Urdu): +92-300-842-5125 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +92-300-842-5125      end_of_the_skype_highlighting (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +1-202-612-4341      end_of_the_skype_highlighting; or +1-917-721-7473 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +1-917-721-7473      end_of_the_skype_highlighting (mobile)
In Jakarta, Elaine Pearson (English): +62 812 82223591 (mobile)
In London, Tom Porteous (English): +44-20-7713-2766 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +44-20-7713-2766      end_of_the_skype_highlighting; or +44-79-8398-4982 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +44-79-8398-4982      end_of_the_skype_highlighting (mobile)

Killing of missing persons appalling: HRCP

Lahore, November 22: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called the killing of six missing persons, whose bodies were found from different parts of Balochistan during the Eid days, “appalling and unreservedly condemnable”.
A statement issued by the Commission on Monday said: “The killing of six missing persons from Balochistan, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found in Turbat, Mastung, Khuzdar and Qalat during the three days of Eidul Azha, is appalling and unreservedly condemnable. The timing of the recovery of bodies makes it difficult to argue with the Baloch Voice that describes the foul deeds as Eid gift to the people of Balochistan. This is certainly not the proper way to resolve the issue of enforced disappearances. The recovery of the bodies has not only been devastating for the families of the six victims, but has also heightened anxieties of families of other missing persons who are pursuing the matter in courts in the hope of reuniting with their loved ones. The situation in the province is already volatile and the people feel abandoned and disempowered, largely because of their treatment at the hands of security agencies. There is an urgent need to rethink the attitude of the state towards Balochistan. HRCP once again reiterates its demand for the government to ensure strict adherence to due process of law and respect for all human rights. A credible probe into the killing of the six people and earlier killings and bringing the perpetrators to justice would go some way towards reducing the trust deficit between the state and the people of that persistently wronged province.”

Dr Mehdi Hasan
Chairperson

HRCP concerned over case against military farm tenants

Lahore, November 15: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern over reports of registration of a criminal case against 175 tenants of military farms in Okara, for allegedly resisting a contractor from taking possession of 100 acres of land leased to him.

A statement issued by the commission on Sunday said: “It is a matter of concern that tensions have once again risen in the villages of military farms in Okara. The tenants’ claim that a number of tough men had accompanied the contractor to take possession of land that had previously been under the tenants’ cultivation is a matter of concern. Media reports suggest that the tenants had overpowered and handed over to the police at least one proclaimed offender. In the circumstances, registration of a case against the tenants necessitates a transparent inquiry.

HRCP must emphasise that no one must be allowed to take the law into his own hands. The movement of Okara tenants for their rights has been characterised by non-violence. HRCP hopes that the legal process will not be used to victimise anyone.

The Commission also has apprehensions about the living conditions of tenants in six villages of the Okara military farms—villages 11/4L, 15/4L, 16/4L, 24/4L, 25/4L, and 26/4L—in the Okara cantonment limits. Credible reports suggest that no development work has taken place in these villages for a decade. Basic facilities such as roads and sewerage in the six villages have fallen apart due to lack of allocation of funds.

Furthermore, HRCP has received with alarm reports that although National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had issued National Identity Cards (NICs) to residents of the six villages, and that these cards bear the address of these villages, now the NADRA authorities in Okara say that no such villages exist and that they have no record of the six villages. This despite the fact that in the last general elections voters from the villages had exercised their right to vote on the basis of NICs issued by NADRA.

The tenants also say that four years earlier the authorities had stopped the construction of a primary school building for boys in village 26/4L, and village children were facing difficulties as the incomplete building only needed a roof. Meanwhile, measures to prevent tenants’ children from attending school in the cantonment area, if true, can only be strongly denounced.

To state the obvious, the tenants are as entitled to development in their area as residents of any other part of the country and a systematic denial of development funds gives credence to the apprehension of the tenants that they are being punished for demanding their legitimate rights and that such tactics are a device to force them out of their villages.

HRCP demands that the military farm tenants must be allowed to exercise all the rights that the law of the land provides and that they must not be targeted through abuse of the legal process. They must also not be denied their identity documents nor the right to peacefully live, work and prosper on land that they and their forefathers have brought under cultivation through their sweat and toil.”
 
Dr Mehdi Hasan
Chairperson

Victory of Ms. Asma Jahangir as the President

AHRC-STM-216-2010

November 2, 2010

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Statement on Victory of Ms. Asma Jahangir as the President of the Supreme Court of Pakistan

The Asian Human Rights Commission extends its congratulation to Ms. Asma Jahangir and her colleagues for their victory of different offices at the Supreme Court Bar Association elections. Her victory as the president of the highest bar association of Pakistan will strengthen the lawyer’s movement for an independent bar, the supremacy of the judiciary and the rule of law. Her success is a victory for the democratic forces, lovers of freedom of expression and the  independence of the media.

From 1998 to 2004, Ms. Jahangir served as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. From 2004 until July 2010, she was the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. She resigned as chairperson of the human rights commission of Pakistan in July of this year in order to run for the SCBA presidency.

The AHRC sincerely hopes that she would continue to contribute to the  improvement of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP – NEW MEDIA RELEASE

CRISIS GROUP CONGRATULATES ASMA JAHANGIR

Brussels, 2 November 2010: The International Crisis Group congratulates its board member, Asma Jahangir, on her election as president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association. Ms. Jahangir, a leading Pakistani lawyer and human rights activist, is the first woman to serve as head of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Pakistan’s most influential forum for lawyers.

“This is a very important step in the reinforcement of constitutionalism and the rule of law in Pakistan,” said Louise Arbour, president of the International Crisis Group.

Ms. Jahangir has previously served as an advocate to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and co-chair of South Asians for Human Rights, among many other prominent positions. In 1998, she was appointed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions and later served as the United Nations Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. She has been on the Board of the International Crisis Group since 2002.

Ms. Jahangir is recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Sitara-I-Imtiaz in 1995, the American Bar Association International Human Rights Award in 1992 and the Martin Ennals Award and the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1995.
“Asma Jahangir’s election to the Supreme Court Bar Association could be a game changer in the relationship within Pakistan’s judicial-lawyers’ community,” said Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group. “It is a positive step forward for the democratic transition.”

 

HRCP mourns death of Dr Inayatullah, Iqbal Jafri

Lahore, November 8: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condoles the passing away of renowned scholar Dr Inayatullah and noted journalist Mr Iqbal Jafri.

Former HRCP board member and founder of Council of Social Sciences of Pakistan, Dr Inayatullah devoted his life to campaign for world peace, particularly a nuclear weapon-free world. Iqbal Jafri had been a keen supporter of human rights and of HRCP.

His services for the restoration of democracy will be remembered. HRCP joins the family and friends in mourning the passing away of two of our dear friends.