President wants blasphemy law reviewed

President wants blasphemy law reviewed`

By Our Staff Reporter

KARACHI, Dec 11: President Asif Ali Zardari has desired that the blasphemy law be reviewed and necessary action taken, said a minority member of the Sindh Assembly at a meeting on Saturday.

MPA Pitanbar Sewani, speaking at the meeting on `Communities vulnerable because of their beliefs`, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the president had responded to a point raised by him during a meeting held at the Sindh Chief Minister`s House.

He said he had raised the issue with the president that the blasphemy law was being misused and was a cause of harassment to the minorities and that it might be amended. He said the president said: “The federal government may examine it and take necessary action.” And that action on this was to be taken by the federal law minister.

Mr Sewani also circulated a copy of the minutes of the meeting issued by Mohammad Ishaque Lashari of the President`s Secretariat (Public) at Aiwan-i-Sadar, Islamabad.

Earlier, I. A. Rehman of the HRCP said that though the HRCP issued a report regarding the status of human rights – which also covered the issues related to the minorities — in the country every year, it was being felt that the issues were of grave nature and could not be fully covered in just a portion of a report, so it was decided that a separate report regarding the status of the minorities in the country would also be published.

He said a series of meetings were being organised where minority communities were invited to discuss their issues and after this process was completed, a report would be prepared that would depict the picture of the minorities in the country.

Minority MPA Saleem Khokhar said at the meeting that under the separate electorates the minority representatives had to contest elections so they took care of their electorate, knowing that he would have to go to them again in next polls. But now under the joint electorate system, the political party chief had the power to nominate anybody he liked. So if he selected his peon and nominated him for the seat, he would become a parliamentarian.

He said a major drawback of this system was that in many cases the voters did not know their representative and the parliamentarian might also not be paying due attention to the electorate, knowing that he had become a parliamentarian because of his party chief`s blessing and not because of his voters` wishes.

Other speakers raised the issue of forced conversion of minor girls and their marriage with Muslim boys. They demanded that in case of minors, they be reunited with the families till their adulthood and if they still wanted to convert, they be allowed to do so. They said more than 45 Hindu girls had been forcibly converted in Sindh in the past couple of years.

They demanded that the Minorities Commission, working under the federal Social Welfare Ministry, be abolished and an autonomous and financially independent commission, which should be a statutory body, be constituted. And it should have the powers to receive complaints, investigate them, give recommendations on laws, and should present its report to parliament annually.

Stressing curriculum reforms, they demanded that textbooks be free from portraying the superiority of one community to another, and if the injecting of religious teachings was necessary, it should comprise tolerant sections from each religion preaching peaceful coexistence of all people in society.

They alleged that the ruling party in Punjab was showing sympathy to and alliance with a hate campaign launched by some religious groups against the Ahmadis, and attacks against that community were on the rise. They said till the time laws were reviewed/ changed, the situation could be improved through administrative orders.

They also expressed concern over a stay granted by a Lahore court as the petitioner feared that the president might grant pardon to a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. They said the government and the judiciary should not succumb to the wishes of extremist views held by a small number of people.

A speaker alleged that when he had applied for a job in an Atomic Energy Commission institute at Tando Jam, he was told that non-Muslims were not recruited in the institute.

A speaker said that though a five per cent employment quota was allocated for the minorities, it was not being implemented judiciously. Most minority members were recruited for low-level jobs such as sanitary workers, peons, etc. They demanded that the implementation of the quota be made compulsory in every grade.

They also urged the media to accommodate liberal religious scholars in their talk shows.

Ghazi Salahuddin, Roland deSouza, Asad Iqbal, Dr Sabir Michael, Shamsher Ali, Kalpana Devi, Munawwar Shahid, Kersasp Shekhdar, Rochiram, Badar Soomro, and others also spoke.

RESOLUTION passed at the PIPFPD Annual Convention held at Jammu

The Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) expresses its deep concern regarding the current stalemate in talks between India and Pakistan. There is an apparent breakdown in the peace process since attacks on Mumbai on November 26 2008.

The leaders of both the countries, however, have had quite a few meetings on the sidelines of various summits in the last two years. The last meeting of Indian External Affairs Minister Mr. S M Krishna and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi held in Islamabad in July 2010, particularly had generated quite a lot of hope for restoration of the full dialogue process. Unfortunately, there was no breakthrough. Both the Foreign Ministers decided to meet again by the end of the year. But, now it seems that substantial progress will not be achieved in the near future.

We are reminded of Indian PM, Dr Manmohan Singh’s oft-made statement that ‘dialogue is the only way’ while Pakistan has been concerned about substantial gains from the process. We urge both the governments to immediately resume the full peace process. It is noteworthy that prior to attacks on Mumbai, we had four rounds of composite dialogue and fifth was on. The resumption of peace process will help not only citizens of India and Pakistan but whole of South Asia.

We also urge both the governments to revive the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners set up by the Foreign Ministries. We also appeal that the unanimous recommendations of the Judicial Committee be implemented. The release of innocent fishermen and other civilian prisoners will help as a big CBM. We have verified list of 51 Pakistani nationals incarcerated  in the Central Jail, Amritsar. Some of them have been in this jail since 1997. We are in possession of names of 50 Indian nationals in Pakistani jails. Among these is a person, who has already spent nearly 24 years in Central jail, Mianwali.
The forum further urges both the governments to liberalise the visa regime and make it stress-free in order to promote people-to-people interaction which will in turn make peace enduring.

The situation in Jammu & Kashmir is a matter of concern for all us. The protests movement spearheaded by the youth since June 2010 has been largely peaceful, It is unfortunate that stone throwing young boys have been shot and killed. During the past six months about 120 persons have been killed. While appreciating Government of India’s decision to appoint a team of three interlocutors, we urge the government to take more concrete steps like reducing the presence of security forces from the valley, removing the larger number of security bunkers from the urban areas and release all the persons arrested since June unconditionally. The Government needs to begin the process of punishing the erring members of the army and other security forces who have been implicated in enforced disappearances, custodial killings and torture. These steps will go a long way in reducing the mounting tension in the valley and in facilitating a meaningful dialogue the people and the interlocutors.
A meaningful involvement of the people of Jammu & Kashmir will be possible only when human rights violations in the region are stopped and justice issues are addressed. A peaceful and democratic initiative to resolve the Kashmir dispute is the urgent need of the day.. We further urge the government of India to resume dialogue with all sections of the Kashmiri society without pre-conditions. We also urge the Government of Pakistan to take immediate steps to stop militants from crossing the LoC and initiate a transparent and a democratic dialogue with the peoples of Azad Jammu and Kashmir so that their views and aspirations for the future of Kashmir may be freely articulated.

The Forum reiterates its position on the Jammu & Kashmir that ‘it is not a mere territorial dispute between India and Pakistan; the people of Jammu & Kashmir should be involved on both sides of the LoC in any dialogue process’.

Militancy, intolerance undermining rights: HRCP

Lahore, December 9: Increase in militancy and intolerance has heightened threats to human rights in Pakistan, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said on Thursday. A statement issued by HRCP on the eve of Human Rights Day said, ”December 10 is an occasion to reflect on the challenges and opportunities for realization of human rights in the country.

This year growing militancy, extremism and intolerance have posed the main threat to the people’s rights. Many of the old challenges to human rights in Pakistan have remained, as new ones, such as clandestine detentions and enforced disappearances, seem to have taken a firm root. For the second year in a row, the number of internally displaced persons in Pakistan was higher than refugees. Extrajudicial killings and torture in jails and police stations continue. Unmanned drones also continue to be used for extrajudicial killings in FATA with no accountability and in complete absence of official statistics on the number of innocent civilians killed. Among the positives this year, Pakistan ratified a number of important international human rights treaties, thus becoming a party to all key human rights instruments, and the 18th Amendment was a good start in making much needed changes to the Constitution.

However, efforts to implement the 18th Amendment and create a specific machinery for implementing international human rights treaties leave much to be desired. Towards the year’s end, sentence of death to Asia Bibi on blasphemy charges and a cleric’s announcement for reward for her murder underlined the threats to citizens on account of bad laws and selective application of law, which in this case meant lack of action under the law despite incitement to murder. In 2010, journalists continued to pay the price for freedom of expression with their lives in all parts of Pakistan. The country’s prisons are at bursting point as alternatives to imprisonment continue to be overlooked. Little headway has been made on the government’s promises on abolition of the death penalty, although the informal moratorium on executions meant that no death penalty convict was executed this year. However, continued award of death sentence pushed the number of death row prisoners above 8,000.

 The worsening economic conditions have taken their toll on the people’s ability to access basic needs and the country’s largely illiterate labour force has been the hardest hit amid growing unemployment. December 10 also marks the second anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. HRCP reiterates its call for Pakistan to ratify the optional protocol, which will not only ensure access to justice for victims of economic, social and cultural violations at the international level, but will also strengthen national systems to do the same. Much needs to be done to realize the commitment to maintain and improve all human rights of all people.

 The array of challenges would no doubt be difficult to overcome soon but meaningful and sincere efforts are bound to start making a difference straightaway. Finally, the theme for Human Rights Day for 2010 is ‘human rights defenders who act to end discrimination’. There is an urgent need to recognise and prevent the great personal risks that rights defenders are exposed to because they speak out against abuse and violations. The day should serve as a reminder to the government of Pakistan of the primary responsibility it has to enable and protect the rights defenders’ role in the country.”

Mehdi Hasan
Chairperson

STATEMENT ISSUED AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE SAHR REGIONAL CONSULTATION OF CITIZENS’ VOICES ON “THE CHALLENGES FOR SOUTH ASIA : HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY”

Kathmandu , 27-29 November 2010
 
South Asians for Human rights (SAHR), a network of independent human rights activists from eight countries, noted with concern the lack of transparency of democratic institutions, and the exclusion of citizen’s participation in legislation and policy making.
 
The meeting welcomed the SAARC Summit initiative for a Charter of Democracy but were concerned that the draft of the charter was limited to a bureaucratic exercise and did not ensure that citizen’s voices be heard. 
 
SAHR recognises that the people of South Asia share common bonds of culture, history and geography but notes with concern that government visa regulations have restricted freedom of movement within the region.  This has frequently led to cross border killings by security forces and detention of foreigners in prison in neighbouring countries.
 
SAHR notes with concern the threats to people’s sovereignty due to increased militarization, anti-terrorist and security laws which give impunity for violations of the right to life, liberty and freedom of torture, erosion of secularism, and dominance of majoritarian interests in political decision making. The upsurge of extremist violence and obscurantism has encouraged customary practices which are a threat to women’s rights to movement, choice and security. 
 
SAHR is concerned that emergency laws imposed in the name of state sovereignty undermine people’s sovereignty,  and that parliaments need to become transparent and open to citizens’ participation  so that legislation promotes human rights.
 
SAHR was concerned  with the use of religion as a tool for discrimination against minority communities even in  secular States, and that while the constitutions guarantee equality irrespective of caste, class, ethnicity, religion or gender, attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship are committed with impunity.
 
Armed conflicts, economic development, natural disasters, climate change have led to internal  displacement, further contributing to poverty and deprivation. 
 
SAHR calls upon governments of South Asia to:
Include citizens’ voices in the formulation of the SAARC Charter of Democracy through active engagement with citizens’ groups.
·        Repeal or amend security laws to include human rights guarantees.
·        Enforce constitutional guarantees of freedom from torture.
·        Urge the government of Bhutan to release political prisoners, set up effective and efficient institutions to oversee human rights and to resettle Bhutanese refugees in their home country.
·        Prevent the usage of emergency laws to suppress fundamental rights and dissent.
·        Ensure constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and thought, without fear of repercussions or reprisal.
·        Formulate a South Asian protocol on treatment of prisoners in accordance with the Paris Principles and a regional convention for settlement of the internally displaced persons in conformity with the UN Guiding Principles on IDPs.
·        Ratify the UN Conventions on Refugees and the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families and include clauses to protect migrant workers in bilateral treaties.
 
SAHR recognises that while the State has the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights, this is not possible without the active engagement of citizens across the region who share a common South Asian identity.
 
SAHR thus urges human rights defenders and activists to:
 
·        Engage with parliamentarians in order to ensure that human rights concerns are addressed in parliament.
·        Press on governments and government institutions to halt discriminatory practices that serve to further marginalise minorities, because of their religion, language, ethnicity, caste, sect, gender and sexual orientation.
·        Put pressure on their respective governments to end military rule in Burma .
·        Engage in draft a Charter of Democracy which would contribute to an inclusive, democratic culture and strengthen democratic institutions. 
·        Interact closely with media to provide information, to promote and protect human rights and to strengthen freedom of expression and thought. 
  
  
South Asians for Human Rights
Kathmandu , 29 November 2010

Plight of Gadani ship-breakers highlighted

KARACHI, Dec 1: It is a rarity that a film on the lives of the labourers who scrap ships is made, that too in a country whose film industry is almost nonexistent. This fact made the screening of a documentary, Iron Slaves , produced and directed by Khalid Hasan, at the IEP auditorium on Wednesday an interesting experience. The screening was sponsored by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The film starts with a few slides giving facts about the ship-breaking industry, one of which suggests it`s the lowest paid job in Gadani. Some long shots of the Gadani beach and the yard are shown and then a series of interviews begin, aided by narration through voiceover. The interviews, intercut with voiceover and occasional shots of the labourers working on the beach, show a young boy (Shah Alam), a man who has spent four decades lifting, scraping and breaking iron (Allah Bachayo), a young kid Qaiser, a man from Azad Kashmir, one from southern Punjab and a few others telling about the lives that they lead as ship-breakers.Some of the stories told by Allah Bachayo and Shah Alam are heart-wrenching.

Through these interviews it becomes known that the labourers live in subhuman conditions with no medical or recreational facilities. The entire area has only one medical dispensary run not by a doctor but by a compounder-type person Liaquat, who basically provides first-aid to those who come to him either after receiving an injury or feeling sick. The seriously injured or sick are taken to hospitals in cities for which transportation is hard to find. Ambulances are unavailable. There`s no water to take a bath, leave alone to drink. Sometimes the labourers use seawater to clean them up.

Another sad point that was unanimously discussed by the poor workers was that they haven`t had their salaries for six months.

Allah Bachayo`s tales are particularly poignant. He knows the names of the deserted vessels for scrap — Canberra, Lady Diana ka jahaz, etc. He once injured himself and was taken to the Jinnah hospital and had 10 stitches to cover up the injury. He didn`t even have time to visit the hospital again and get the stitches removed. Shah Alam, however, appears to be the focus of the director`s attention, for he begins and ends the film with his story. He is an impulsive lad who wants his due. At the end he leaves the yard (or beach) for Karachi without getting his pay.

While the intent behind Iron Slaves was praiseworthy, the documentary noticeably lacked research work that must go into such ventures.

Information on the ship-breaking industry, all over the world, on how the one at Gadani took root, on how the labourers are hired and on who the people responsible for their plight are would have made it strong content-wise. It hinged only on the interviews with the labourers that in a manner of speaking gave a lopsided view. Those who have deprived them of facilities at least should have been shown to have been approached even if they denied talking about it.

Then it also did not pictorially explore the yard or the area. There were a couple of interesting shots in the film when some workers are seen pushing a heavy piece of iron. Expanding on such scenes would have enhanced it aesthetically.