Human rights, political process must be respected and reinforced: HRCP

Lahore, March 18:  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has voiced alarm over the continued deterioration in the state of human rights across the country and emphasised the need for all actors and institutions to urgently address pressing concerns as well as respect and strengthen the political process.

 A statement approved by the HRCP annual general meeting said on Sunday: “The country is passing through a critical phase where the democratic experiment is on trial and it is imperative that the political process is respected and reinforced. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan considers it important that the process of improving the constitution continues until all accretions of dictatorship are thrown out and the chapter on fundamental rights is further reinforced. In HRCP’s view a four-year term for parliament may also be considered so as to enable the people to exercise their democratic rights more frequently and to hold the government accountable. It will also create space for the emergence of fresh leadership. Now is the time to improve vigilance in guarding against any form of extra-democratic intervention in the forthcoming general elections, by the military, by extremists, or through any special judicial process. The people’s anxieties on that count must be given due weight and urgently addressed.

HRCP is acutely concerned over escalations in religious and sectarian violence and demands that the government launch and sustain a robust effort by civilian and military authorities to adequately respond to the growing menace, especially the oppression of the Ahmedis, the killing of the Shias, and the kidnapping for ransom and forced conversion of the Hindus. At least part of the focus must be on stemming intolerance in society. It is hard to find a silver lining in Balochistan where victims of enforced disappearance remain missing or their dead bodies are increasingly discovered. At least 173 bodies were found in 2011. Unless political means are used to address an essentially political problem, things are bound to get worse. Impunity for the security agencies must be ended, law and order improved and the explosion in the incidents of kidnapping for ransom brought under control. In the final analysis the people of Balochistan must have a decisive say in their affairs. HRCP demands that the government pay immediate attention to early warning signs of serious problems and unrest in Gilgit Baltistan and urges action to address people’s political and socio-economic concerns and put an end to sectarian violence. There has been no improvement in the situation in Karachi and nothing has been done to prevent the regular cycles of violence.

A new wave of targeting political activists in Sindh through abduction and murder has added to the alarm of the people. It is a disgrace that nearly a decade after the menace of enforced disappearance raised its ugly head, not a single person has been held to account for involvement in this travesty. The government must immediately acknowledge all such detentions, release the people and put in place means to ensure that disappearances become a thing of the past. It is high time to introduce a compensation regime for victims of crime by the state. A considerable number of people are known to be in military detention following the security forces’ operations against the militants. Due process must be ensured for these people too. The consensus on the need to introduce legislation to regulate the working of the intelligence agencies must be respected. Threats to human rights defenders have continued unchallenged and three HRCP activists have been killed in 2011 alone. The state must ensure protection for those defending others’ rights and provide an environment conducive for them to work without threats to their lives. The HRCP general body condemns the degree of freedom allowed to certain groups to circulate malicious material against individuals including Asma Jahangir. Such acts must be investigated seriously and the perpetrators brought to justice. The troubles of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) do not appear to be a priority for the government any more. That is unfortunate as the challenges of the displaced persons and HRCP’s concerns at their problems have grown in recent months. The shelter and livelihood concerns of those who have returned after displacement have not been adequately addressed and there is substantial room for improvement in consultation with the affected people. The health and education needs of the displaced children must be given much more priority than they have received so far. The number of the Pakistanis, many of them irregular migrants, who are detained abroad runs into thousands. Their plight has gone unnoticed for long and deserves attention. Efforts must be made to ensure their right to due process and to return home. The people are gravely concerned over the epidemic of kidnappings for ransom and a general breakdown of law and order all over Pakistan. Crime has grown in cities and rural areas alike and socio-economic reasons, including financial deprivation, have also played a role. Increased militant activity in the last few months has also added to these concerns.

The people feel vulnerable and at the mercy of criminals and militants. Weaponisation of society, violence in educational institutions of higher learning and murders in the name of honour continue. The HRCP general body reminds the government of its responsibility to protect the rights of the people beginning with their right to life. HRCP notes with disappointment that the recent amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) have brought virtually no change to the system of governance. Urgent changes must be made to the law to ensure proper reform and due process. Collective punishment, punitive demolition of houses and all forms of arbitrary detention must be made illegal. The vacuum that exists in the enforcement of human rights in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is indefensible and the creation of a mechanism for enforcement of human rights in the region cannot be delayed. HRCP expresses its grave concern over challenges to freedom of expression and the reported plans to censor the media and the Internet. Media, civil society and the people in general must be consulted before any changes are considered in the law. The media should do more to counter radicalization and intolerance. It is a scandal that the misuse of blasphemy laws and the official apathy and appeasement of extremists have continued. The government must abide by its promises to protect the people from vigilantes claiming to act under the banner of religion. HRCP welcomes the recently adopted pro-women rights laws and will keenly monitor how they are implemented. It also welcomes the SMS service provided by the Election Commission for verification of voters’ details and hopes that this would help ensure error-free electoral rolls.”

Kamran Arif
Co-chairperson

Concern about new bid to censor the Internet: HRCP, FIDH

 

Lahore, March 13: On the occasion of the international day of action against Internet censorship, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), have expressed deep concern over an attempt by the Ministry of Information Technology in Pakistan to further restrict freedom of expression, creativity and peaceful thought on the Internet, by projecting an extensive filtering system that will, if implemented, allow authorities to block up to 50 million “undesirable” URLs at the national level.

 

The National ICT R&D Fund of the Ministry of Information Technology released in February a call inviting academia/research institutions, companies, organizations to submit, by 16 March 2012, a proposal for the set-up of a filtering system. The call claims that Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered, so that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and backbone providers in the country need a high-performance system to block millions of URLs containing “undesirable” content as notified by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

 

“Censorship is already very tight in Pakistan; 13,000 websites considered guilty of publishing adult and blasphemous content have already been blocked. On 14 November 2011, authorities requested mobile operators to censor the content of SMS and ban 1,600 words and expressions. Over the last summer, operators received the order to submit lists of Internet users trying to escape censorship, which corresponds to a system of surveillance”, said Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairperson.

 

In his annual report to the UN General Assembly in 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, stressed that “as a general rule, there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information on the Internet, except under a few, very exceptional and limited circumstances prescribed by international law for the protection of other human rights”.

 

The Special Rapporteur also recommended that if restrictions are imposed, States must “provide full details regarding the necessity and justification for blocking a particular website, and determination of what content should be blocked should be undertaken by a competent judicial authority or a body which is independent of any political, commercial, or other unwarranted influences to ensure that blocking is not used as a means of censorship”.

 

“International law imposes a high threshold over the types of expression that could be legitimately restricted, such as incitement to racial hatred or child pornography, but restrictions on expressions and opinions on the mere ground that they are critical of the government or objectionable to prevailing social norms are not compatible with Pakistan’s obligation under international law to protect freedom of expression,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.

 

FIDH and HRCP request the government of Pakistan to put on hold the set-up of the filtering system and ensure that the measure does not end up institutionalizing Internet censorship and surveillance and is consistent with Pakistan’s obligation to protect the freedom of expression.

 

Civil society and human rights groups should be consulted in an inclusive manner and their recommendations duly included in the project’s terms of reference.

 

The decision on what content should be blocked must not be left to the whims of bureaucrats. An independent judicial body should determine the necessity and justification for blocking a particular website to prevent arbitrary restrictions. Forums for appeal against the decisions of such a body should also be provided.

Zohra Yusuf
HRCP chairperson

HRCP urges civil-military collaboration to stop sectarian attacks

Lahore, March 1: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the government to use the military wherever it is necessary for putting an end to sectarian violence in the country and has called for an impartial probe to apprehend those behind Tuesday’s attack on a bus in which 18 Shia men were killed.

A statement by HRCP on Thursday said: “The Commission is saddened by the grisly sectarian attack on a Gilgit-bound bus in which 18 Shia men were killed. It welcomes the army chief’s offer to help investigate the brazen killings by attackers who were reported to be in military uniforms. There are two aspects to it, the more important one being that the military has considerable presence in the area where the attack took place and the frequent occurrence of sectarian violence there demands that the civil authority and the military join hands to ensure effective protection and prevention strategies. At the same time, there really needs to be some regulation of the unchecked sale of military uniforms in markets across the country.

HRCP demands that the tragic attack on the bus passengers should be probed by an impartial and independent authority, along with the series of sectarian attacks in the last 10 years, to bring the perpetrators to justice. The government must redouble effort to promote sectarian harmony and tolerance to prevent further bloodshed. It must also find the will to decisively act against sectarian militant groups and show the commitment to effectively prosecute those apprehended for sectarian violence. But most importantly, the root causes of sectarian violence in society need to be looked at and addressed, especially the institutional soft corner for militants.”

Zohra Yusuf
Chairperson