HRCP wants early opening of educational institutions

Press Release, 21 October 2009

LAHORE– Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called upon the government on Wednesday to take steps to open the country’s educational institutions at the earliest to defeat terrorists’ foul designs of paralysing normal life in the country.

HRCP’s full statement reads as following:

In the wake of military operation in South Waziristan, the nightmarish apprehensions of possible terrorist attacks on academic institutions were proved correct with the two blasts at the International Islamic University Islamabad on Tuesday. These dastardly and utterly outrageous attacks once again prove that the terrorists respect neither mosques nor places of learning and that their objective is to paralyse normal life. As a result, the education institutions all over the country have been closed down indefinitely on the government’s orders. Obviously, the students stand to lose their precious education time. Already, our children are suffering from the effects of terrorism on their minds with their exposure to gruesome scenes of bloodshed that are being beamed into homes through pervasive media and the talk of terrorism that has become an essential part of our daily conversation.

While the closure of educational institutions as an immediate measure is understandable given the panic among parents and students, it cannot be a permanent solution to the menace of terrorism. The terrorists can bide their time till the educational centres re-open and meanwhile strike elsewhere. The government may not keep educational institutions shut down indefinitely without risking the career of students and future of Pakistani nation. The educational scene is already quite depressing in Pakistan and a long suspension of educational activity would make it bleaker. Besides, such closure will convince the terrorists of the success of their foul design.

Ironically, while the mainstream public and private educational institutions have stopped working, thousands of religious seminaries, many of which provide ideological support and in some cases board and lodging to militant and terrorist organisations are working normally. This fulfills the objective of the fundamentalists to stop from working the moderate educational institutions not adhering to their brand of Islam. Thus, the situation is much more complex than what meets the eye.

The current state of affairs calls for some medium- to longer-term steps in order to resume and continue the education. First of all, it must be recognized that schools and colleges need to be re-opened sooner than later after taking necessary precautionary safety measures.

The role of media in this situation is also a crucial factor. Terrorists seem to have so far benefited from the competition-driven electronic media’s way breaking news and showing live coverage of the terror incidents. The media needs to strictly follow the universal broadcast ethics while showing the terror images. Following a voluntary code of ethics in this regards would not only spare the viewers from gory scenes and panic but also help the media maintain its independence and freedom.

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

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Statement from CHRI’s London Roundtable, 13 October 2009

Dear All:

I enclose a civil society statement that is the outcome of a Roundtable convened by CHRI in London on 13th October 2009.

The statement is targetted at the Commonwealth heads of governments, and the Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting in London next week where senior officials will plan for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad this November.

The Roundtable meeting discussed the state of human rights in the Commonwealth and in particular pointed to the work, worth and worries of human rights defenders. This statement is also complementary to CHRI’s new report on human rights defenders, which was launched the same evening by Lord Anthony Lester.

We would very much welcome your circulating this to your networks and also should you wish to, endorsing the statement and commending it to your contacts within the official Commonwealth and at the Secretariat.

Best wishes

Maja Daruwala

Director

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

B-117, First Floor, Sarvodaya Enclave

New Delhi, INDIA, 110017

Tel No 91 11 26864678:26850523 (O)

Tel No 91 11 26868961 (H)

Fax No 91 11 26864688 (O)

email: director@humanrightsinitiative.org

email: maja.daruwala@gmail.com

********************************

Roundtable Consultation on Partnering for Human Rights in the Commonwealth.

Civil Society Message to CHOGM 2009

Civil Society Organisations from across the Commonwealth and beyond met in London on 13 October 2009 and issued this message to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2009

The credibility of the Commonwealth as a values based association is being seriously questioned.

Human rights and fundamental freedoms form an intrinsic part of Commonwealth Principles as enshrined in the 1971 Declaration of Commonwealth Principles and other subsequent Commonwealth communiqués and declarations.

The Harare Declaration and Millbrook Action Plan commit governments to observe and

implement Human Rights as part of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values. Security, climate change and financial stability can only be realized where there is genuine protection of human rights. The 2009 CHOGM is considering the theme “Partnering for a more Equitable and Sustainable Future.” It must recognise that partnerships without human rights will lead to neither equity nor sustainability.

The Commonwealth is far from fulfilling its purpose as a champion of human rights. Many critical aspects of the Millbrook Action Plan are yet to be fully implemented.

In this context we urge that CHOGM should:

1) Indicate real political will to strengthen human rights within the Commonwealth and call for demonstrable adherence by member states to international best practice standards of human rights.

2) Expand the mandates of the Secretary-General’s Good Offices role and CMAG so that civil society is routinely actively involved in their work and they should refer to international human rights standards in dealing with countries that seriously or persistently violate human rights.

3) Apply human rights criteria in selecting host countries for Commonwealth meetings with input from CMAG, the Human Rights Unit and broad-based civil society consultation.

4) Further the implementation of its past commitments on civil society space at previous CHOGMs by ensuring their participation and representation in Commonwealth meetings and processes, especially those relating to human rights and mandate the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation to this end.

5) Call on the Secretary-General to take immediate action in the event of direct threats made by governments to Human Rights Defenders and civil society, particularly in light of the recent threats made by the President of The Gambia.

6) Develop a public disclosure policy that will uphold the principle of maximum disclosure and ensure full transparency in all aspects of the Secretariat’s work.

7) Strengthen the Human Rights Unit within the Secretariat by elevating it to the level of a Division.

8) Recognise that currently there are no systems in place to comprehensively vet membership applications, and set up a mechanism that will carry out independent, comprehensive, and public reviews of the state of democracy and human rights in an applicant country so as to verify that Commonwealth membership standards have been satisfied.

9) Establish a mechanism to measure the implementation of past human rights commitments and recommend ways of implementing them speedily.

10)  Call on member states that have not yet done so to begin or continue the process of realising international and regional human rights standards through ratification of treaties and by devising steps to implement those treaties.

Human Rights Defenders

CHOGM should:

Recognise the value and importance of the work of Human Rights Defenders, including women Human Rights Defenders.  Any attack on them is an attack on the human rights of the whole society.

Reaffirm that Commonwealth countries have a duty to protect the life and liberty of Human Rights Defenders and respect their rights to freedom of association, movement, expression and information.

Urge Commonwealth states to commit to abide by the UN Declaration on Human Rights

Defenders at international, regional and sub-regional levels and take steps for the domestic implementation of the Declaration. Member states should view Human Rights Defenders as key partners in implementing the human rights principles in the Harare Declaration.

Mandate the Secretariat to develop a Commonwealth-wide policy to protect Human Rights Defenders. To implement this policy the Secretariat should:

1) Provide technical assistance to states in implementing international standards for the protection of Human Rights Defenders and the promotion of civil society.

2) Partner with member states and civil society organisations to put in place National Human Rights Action Plans that include a comprehensive, practical step-by-step strategy for improving protection for Human Rights Defenders.

3) Create a monitoring mechanism on the situation of Human Rights Defenders within the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit which should also work to protect Human Rights Defenders at risk.

HRCP calls for immediate demilitarisation of Balochistan

Press Release, 11 October 2009

Quetta: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) calls for immediate demilitarisation of Balochistan as the first confidence-building measure to start a political dialogue in the province and warns if corrective actions are not taken immediately with the concurrence of Balochistan’s people, the country may dearly regret the consequences.

The full statement reads as follows:

After a week-long visit of Balochistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is of the firm view that the largest federating unit of the state can only be likened to an active volcano that may erupt anytime with dire consequences. The situation is alarming and worsening by the day.

It is apparent from the information received by the HRCP, from various sources, government and non-government, political parties and individuals that the decision-making is firmly in the hands of elements that were in command before February 2008. It is the military that still calls the shots. The provincial government is isolated and made dysfunctional in critical areas. An over-sized cabinet, absence of an opposition and wide-spread corruption have all contributed to a political vacuum. There are deep concerns of governance in the entire country but in Balochistan the crisis is deeper.

In this crisis, a large section of the people of Balochistan has been driven to the conclusion that they are being viewed as enemies of the state. They feel abandoned by the people as well as political forces in the rest of the country. There is a sense of isolation, rejection and dejection.

The incidents of human rights’ violations in Balochistan are wide-spread and harrowing. Regrettably, the state has not addressed these complaints and the media, either under pressure or on account of its own failings, has been unable to probe and report the dreadful reality on the ground. The most hair-raising are the continuing incidents of enforced disappearances. In addition to a large number of cases already taken up by HRCP, the Commission has been able to document 30 new cases during its present mission to Balochistan. This appears to be only the tip of the iceberg as a large number of families do not have access to any forum of protest or redress. Moreover, the Commission is bound by its method of work to verify each and every case brought before it in accordance with accepted international standards of reporting.

HRCP has ample evidence to support the allegations of victims’ families that the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are intelligence agencies and security forces. This has been conceded by high officials and politicians in authority. The mission learnt in number of incidents, even public figures in power were unable to secure relief or assurances that such incidents will stop. These public figures cited a number of incidents of disappearances in which, on the basis of credible evidence, they approached the intelligence agencies and the security forces only to be met by a bland denial. This amounts to rubbing of salt into the raw wounds of the victims.

The existence of check posts causing inconvenience and humiliation was reported by people from all over Balochistan. Incidents were reported where the FC personnel manning these checkpoints insulted the people by shaving their moustache, tearing the Baloch shlawar and making other gestures derogatory to their culture and bearing.

The mission also received information about arbitrary arrests and reports of endemic torture at unauthorised cells whose existence was confirmed by knowledgeable people.

A history of neglect and betrayal over the decades coupled with systematic human rights abuses carried out with impunity has made a vast number of Baloch people desperate. No wonder, in this situation the Baloch youth has been driven into repudiating their allegiance to the state. Indeed, the voice of the youth is so strident that even those who disagree with them do not dare to express their views. The refusal of the Baloch youth to fly the Pakistani flag or play the national anthem in many areas and the insistence of the authorities to the contrary is only aggravating the situation. When the people’s will is being broken, their voice ruthlessly stifled and their bodies charred in torture cells; where mothers die every second waiting to hear from their disappeared child – the state cannot expect any other reaction but one of rebellion. In such circumstances the youth particularly is vulnerable to manipulation. It is imperative for all national leaders act with responsibility and to exercise a positive influence so that facts are not distorted.

HRCP abhors violence both as a means and as an end, perpetrated by any party. It regrets that target killings have also been attributed to militants and nationalist forces. An important number of people have fallen victims to target killings simply because of their ethnic origin or belief. HRCP unreservedly condemns such abuse of right to life and expects all political forces to do the same publicly. The sins of the federal government must not be visited on unarmed and innocent citizens.

The government’s obligation to investigate and punish the culprits is manifest and any failure in this regard fuels discontent and mistrust. In this climate of fear, a large number of government employees, academics, skilled people and members of intelligentsia have migrated from Balochistan to other areas. Many more are following. This has seriously affected the quality of services available to citizens, especially in education and health sectors. It is also causing serious imbalances in the community’s social structure.

An additional factor of insecurity and tension is the uninterrupted sequence of sectarian killings for the last six years. The representatives of Hazara community have claimed that 270 of their members have been killed since 2004. They have accused the security agencies of colluding with the criminal elements. As an example, they have presented the case of two notorious criminals who were arrested and kept in the anti-terrorist lock-up from where they mysteriously fled. The government had set up tribunals – one in 2004 and one in 2008 – to investigate two separate incidents of sectarian killings but the findings of these tribunals have yet not been made public.

The representatives of Pakhhtoon community list a long series of grievances relating to denial of rights, discrimination in the allocation of resources and non-acceptance of their demand to be an equal unit of the federation.

A large number of people expressed concern over the influx of so-called Taliban and other categories of militants in Pakhtoon-dominated areas. There are serious allegations that these elements are operating within Pakistan and across the border with impunity. This is particularly worrying for the Pakhtoon community itself.

Recommendations

HRCP is convinced that ill-imagined, ill-informed and belated measures by the federal government will not improve the situation in Balochistan. The patronising manner in which “Balochistan package” is being promoted will only add insult to injury. There is an urgency to create a climate of confidence and trust where wider consultation with all stake-holders is made possible. As a first step, demilitarisation of Balochistan is essential. All those held under illegal custody be freed and compensated. Political prisoners be released and perpetrators of human rights violations be brought to justice. In the long run, all political forces of the province should be brought in the mainstream. The people of Balochistan be assured that they will have full authority to decide their affairs including the management and control of their resources.

HRCP warns that if corrective actions are not taken immediately with the concurrence of Balochistan’s people and to their satisfaction, the country may dearly regret the consequences.

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP wants proactive govt measures to curb violence against minorities

Press Release, 14 September 2009

Lahore, September 14: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Monday expressed concern over increasing frequency of violent attacks on religious minorities and demanded that the government take proactive measures to prevent such violence.

Reacting to the recent torching of a church in Sambarial, Sialkot district, HRCP said in a press statement: “The Commission has been warning the government of the growing intolerance of religious minorities’ rights and pointing towards the increasing frequency of vigilante actions against them. It has repeatedly expressed concern at attacks on non-Muslims over allegations of blasphemy and desecration of religious scriptures. It is unfortunate that our fears of recurrence of such violence again proved to be true in Sambarial last week.

The government response in the face of a recent spurt in incidents of violence against minorities – mainly belated announcements of financial compensation and some attempts at encouraging reconciliation at the local level – has clearly been insufficient and exclusively reactive.

The Commission would emphasise that another attack targeting the minorities is a question of when, not if, unless the government acknowledges in a meaningful manner the threat extremism and intolerance pose to society, understand the dynamics fuelling the phenomenon and take urgent and effective remedial measures.

The allegations of blasphemy or defiling of religious scriptures, irrespective of their veracity, do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens. Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks, while a lack thereof would encourage impunity.”

I. A. Rehman, Secretary-General

Update from Wilder Tayler on the situation of Commissioner Muhannad Al-Hasani

Dear ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members,

I am writing to follow-up on my letter of 21 August 2009 concerning the arrest and detention of our Syrian ioner Muhannad Al-Hasani. As he awaits likely prosecution before the State Security Court, Muhannad Al-Hasani is now facing a disciplinary “trial” before the Syrian Bar Association on the same charges pending against him before the State Security Court.  The Syrian Bar Association is not independent and is under the control of the Baa’ts ruling party.  Under the 1981 Syrian Bar association law, Al-Hasani might be suspended from practicing law for an unlimited or indefinite period.  The Bar Association allowed him to be represented by a lawyer during this proceeding, and according to information provided by his lawyer, Al-Hasani is remains at risk of ill-treatment in Adra prison, Damascus.

I had a meeting with the Syrian ambassador last Friday. It was an opportunity for me to express the ICJ¹s deep concern about the arrest of Al-Hasani and to impress upon the the Syrian Government that his arrest constitutes a serious attack against the Syrian legal profession and the Rule of Law in Syria.

However, I am concerned that it is quite possible that the Syrian authorities will go ahead with the trial of Al-Hasani before the State Security Court. If this were to occur, we will monitor the trial. Meanwhile, we are seeking to send an urgent mission to Syria in solidarity with Al-Hasani and to see if we can make progress with the relevant officials in Damascus.

The Mission will try to meet with representatives of the Syrian Government, the Bar Association and the State Security Court, and will seek Al-Hasani¹s release and the dropping of the charges, and the restoration of his capacity to practice his profession, including as a human rights defender.  The Mission will also try to have access to Al-Hasani in Adra prison.

I will let you know as soon as there is any further development with this situation. Many thanks to those of you who have already taken actions in defense of, and solidarity with, our colleague Muhannad Al-Hasani.

Best regards,

Wilder Tayler

Acting Secretary General

International Commission of Jurists

HRCP’s rejoinder

HRCP’s rejoinder
2 September 2009

With regard to a letter titled “HRCP?” published in The Nation on September 2, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan would like to set the record straight.

HRCP cannot help but notice the extremely selective perusal of newspapers by the writer. HRCP has consistently raised its voice against Taliban atrocities in Swat, even when it was deemed extremely dangerous to speak against them.

HRCP would like to draw attention to literally dozens of public statements it has made regarding Taliban atrocities in Swat. In August 2008, HRCP wrote to the prime minister and the NWFP chief minister urging them to address the alarming human rights abuses in Swat and referred to Taliban as criminals and terrorists when people, and even the government, chose not to openly oppose the Taliban.

In September 2008, HRCP had urged the need for using effective force to fight terrorism in Swat.

In January 2009, it demanded the government take action instead of “fiddling as Swat burns”.

HRCP was one of the few organizations to openly criticise April 13 – the day when the National Assembly was scared by Taliban threats into backing the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation for Malakand Division – calling it “a day of ignominious capitulation”.

On February 20, HRCP had publicly expressed outrage for the so-called truce between the government and Swat Taliban.

On April 5, the HRCP had openly stated that Pakistan and Taliban could not co-exist. On April 4, HRCP was at the forefront of organising a demonstration in Lahore to assert the people’s will to resist and defeat the terrorists.

The statements can be accessed at HRCP’s blog: hrcpblog.wordpress.com
HRCP was at the forefront of organising demonstrations against the flogging of the woman in Swat that the writer has referred to, as well as to oppose terrorism.

As for human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK), HRCP would like to state the obvious – that it is a organization with a mandate to work on human rights within Pakistan, but is quite satisfied with the excellent work being done by a number organizations in both Pakistan and India on the human rights situation in IHK.

The HRCP report that refers to mass graves in Swat also covers atrocities by the Taliban and the civilian population’s plight. In that report, HRCP has pointed out the mass killings and instead of assigning blame asked the government to conduct a transparent inquiry to determine responsibility.

HRCP reiterates that it believes in the protection of rights of all individuals, whether they are suspected militants, ordinary citizens, or indeed even criminals.

While HRCP appreciates fair criticism, it expects that those criticising its work would make at least some effort to get their facts right.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

HRCP consultation urges persisting with local govt system

Press Release, 2 September 2009

Lahore: There was a strong consensus among the participants of a consultation organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that local government system should not be wound up or made a mere administrative appendage of the provincial government set-up and the present system should be continued with necessary amendments to increase transparency, accountability and service delivery.

According to a press statement issued by HRCP on Wednesday, the participants of the consultation said some changes in the present order might be considered but the local government system must be retained because it gives representation and a share in public affairs to the common citizen at the grassroots.

They said any reform that reduced the financial and administrative authority of the local government institutions would effect service delivery at the grassroots and go against the very rationale of decentralization of power. “Deficiencies in any one area must not be cited as a justification for wrapping up a system crucial for the devolution of democratic governance to the lowest tier,” the consultation concluded.

The centrality of commitment to the principle of devolution of power and decentralization to any reform was highlighted and concern raised that the changes were being considered without any effort to solicit or consider public opinion. It was argued that any attempt at reform must be based on sound reasoning and widest possible consultation.

Retaining representation for women, minorities, and working classes was emphasised. There were also demands for increasing their representation.

The participants opposed any delay in holding local government elections. They argued that the provincial governments that advocated increased autonomy for themselves must follow the same principle when it came to devolving powers to the local government.

Those taking part in the consultation included academia, political activists and members of local bodies.

I. A. Rehman
Secretary-General