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

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

Another Baloch victim of extra-legal killing

Press Release, 1 September 2009

Lahore: Strongly condemning the brutal murder after abduction of another Balochistan leader, Rasool Bakhsh Baloch, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has reiterated its demand for earnest efforts to prevent killing of dissidents and to resolve the cases of missing persons. In a statement issued today the commission said:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemns in the strongest possible terms the brutal murder of Mr Rasool Bakhsh Baloch, an important office-bearer of the Balochistan National Party and a well-known human rights defender and social activist from Khuzdar. He had been abducted by armed men on August 23 and on August 30 his son had accused “some intelligence agencies” of abducting him. He had also expressed the fear that Mr Rasool Bakhsh might be killed. A day later the abducted activist’s dead body, bearing marks of torture, was found hanging from a tree in Bela.

This incident needs to be seen in the context of the tension in Khuzdar caused by the disclosure of their abduction and torture by two Khuzdar activists, Qadir Qalandrani and Naeem Baloch, and the disappearance of several other Baloch activists.

HRCP reiterates its view that the killing of prominent political activists cannot be countenanced on any account. These incidents have been a major cause of the Balochistan people’s alienation from the state. The government must demonstrate its earnestness in preventing such target killings. At the same time the task of tracing the large number of people reported missing must be pursued with diligence. The cost of dilly-dallying in these matters will be too horribly high to be imagined.

Asma Jahangir, Chairperson

HRCP slates bid to gag Balochistan newspapers

Press Release, 28 August 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Friday called upon the government to respect press freedom in Balochistan and end the practice of laying virtual siege of independent newspapers’ offices in the province.

A statement issued by HRCP said: “The Commission is alarmed at reports of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel laying siege of Quetta offices of at least two newspapers. On August 18, Urdu daily Asaap announced suspension of its publication after the security forces cordoned its Quetta office for two weeks and all visitors and employees were frisked, questioned and humiliated.

FC personnel have now been deployed outside the offices of Urdu daily Aazdi and nobody is allowed in without submitting to a search and questioning.

Journalists and the media in Balochistan face numerous security threats and this makes their work even harder.

Even prior to the security forces’ clampdown, these newspapers were being victimised and Asaap – one of the widely-circulated Urdu newspaper in Balochistan – had been denied government advertisements for a number of years.

To say that the government agents’ actions are illegal and in clear violation of domestic and international guarantees for freedom of expression is to state the obvious, but HRCP must remind the government that curbing freedom of the media, stifling newspapers or denying them advertisements will only add to the problems it faces in Balochistan.”

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

Strong parliament essential for democracy

Press Release, 27 July 2009

Islamabad: The parliament must be made strong and popular with the people if continuation of the democratic system is to be guaranteed. This was the consensus at a consultation with parliamentarians, leaders of political parties and civil society activists from Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP) organized here the other day by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The participants were unanimous in holding the military’s, especially the intelligence agencies’, interference in political matters as the biggest obstacle to parliament’s supremacy and stability of the democratic system.

There was complete unanimity among the participants on restoration of the 1973 constitution except for certain amendments (voting age, women’s seats, etc)

The participants were also unanimous in calling for due accountability of political leaders and stricter checks on floor-crossing. A call for reducing election expenses and for political parties to award election tickets on merit was also supported.

They agreed that parliament will become strong and play its leading role in promoting democracy if it paid due attention to people’s concerns and gave their interest preference to all other matters.

There was some difference of opinion on the suggestion that religious forces had put unwarranted restrictions on the parliament’s supremacy and therefore the ideal of a secular democracy had to be reaffirmed. One political party was seriously opposed to this formulation.

The main recommendations made by the meeting included:

•    The federal and provincial legislatures should be the only law-making bodies. No other entity/forum should have the power to make laws. The central parliament should avoid encroaching on provinces’ legislative functions.

•    The constitution should be amended to bar any fresh taxation without the parliament’s approval. Parliament should also oversee subordinate legislation, such as rules made under enactments. Non-legislative acts, such as SROs and notifications enjoying the power of law, should always be put on legislatures’ tables.

•    A parliamentary commission should examine all ordinances that have been issued over the past many decades so that they can be validated or dropped under parliament’s authority. No law that has not been made by a competent legislature should be allowed to remain on the statute book for more than four months.

•    No government policy should be adopted without a thorough debate in parliament.

•    Parliament should have a say in the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner, service chiefs, and the judges.

•    The Rules of Business should be approved by the legislature concerned.

•    All international treaties signed by Pakistan as well as reports to the UN must be debated in parliament.

•    The standing committees should be set up within two weeks of the formation of the legislatures and they should meet regularly.

•    The parliament will gain in stature if Senate’s power are increased.

•    The proceedings of legislatures should be published within two weeks of events and in national languages. Each legislature must offer up-to-date information on its website. It should also issue an annual report on its activities.

•    All legislatures should provide space for the articulation of special groups’ (women, minorities) views.

•    The procedure regarding private members’ bills/resolutions should be revised so as to increase their contribution to legislative work.

•    The question hour should be used to provide as much information on the state’s and government’s affairs as possible.

The meeting also called upon the political parties to train their workers in parliamentary proceedings, hold discussion on legislative proposals at the various levels of organisation, exercise their powers of overseeing the work of their government/parliamentary parties and sensitise their following to the demands of participatory democracy.

Prominent among those who attended the Islamabad roundtable were parliamentarians Afrasiab Khatak (ANP), Begum Tehmina Daultana (PML-N), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (PML-N), MNAs Jamila Gillani and Bushra Gohar, former MNAs Latif Afridi, and M. Aslam (Jamat Islami), Punjab Tehrik Insaf leader Asif Khan. Advocates Sher Mohammad (Swat) and Kamran Arif (Peshawar), Mr Amirul Azeem (JI), media and civil society representatives from Punjab, Pakhtunkhwa, tribal areas and Islamabad.

I. A. Rehman
Secretary-General