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 urges Pakistan, India to resume prisoner swap, stop arrests for minor violations

Press Release, 5 August 2009

Lahore: As the Pakistani and Indian governments exhibit a welcome resolve to resume dialogue, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urges them to also reconsider the plight of each other’s nationals incarcerated in prisons across the border, institute long-term policies to de-criminalise minor visa or border-crossing violations and stop violating Article 73 (Enforcement of laws and regulations of the coastal State) of the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that prohibits the arrest of fishermen crossing a maritime border.

HRCP urges an early resumption of the process of reciprocal exchange of prisoners, halted since the Mumbai attacks.

HRCP endorses the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s demand for a permanent solution that includes a policy in which Pakistan and India stop arresting each other’s fishermen for maritime boundary violations. Such detentions routinely violate Article 73 of UNCLOS, according to which penalties for violations “may not include imprisonment, in the absence of agreements to the contrary by the States concerned, or any other form of corporal punishment”.

When making such arrests, the security agencies also seize boats, equipment and catch worth lakhs of rupees. Dozens of such boats, representing the hard work and sweat of the poor, lie rotting in harbours on either side.

Pakistan and India allow each other’s arrested citizens no access to consular services until after they have served their prison terms. Many languish for years in brutal conditions. They have no legal rights or the ability to challenge their arrest or engage a lawyer. Normally their families remain oblivious of their arrests, location of prisons and the conditions there.

Cases come to public notice when prisoners’ families or friends are lucky to acquire information, take up the issue and notify the media. Engaging lawyers across the divide also adds to the woes of the incarcerated prisoners and their families. Such families often remain long ignorant of the arrest and whereabouts of their loved ones. Sometimes, even after prisoners are returned, they have nowhere to go if they have lost track of their families, or their families have disowned them.

Use of torture as well as negligence is rampant in prisons in both countries.  This has resulted in the loss of lives as well as leaving many prisoners on both sides physically and mentally scarred for life.

The two States must ensure that each other’s nationals are repatriated at the earliest and that they are not denied basic human rights in prisons merely on account of their nationality.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

Gojra admin knew about pre-planned attacks: HRCP

Press Release, 4 August 2009

Lahore: Last week’s attacks targeting the Christian community in Gojra were not a spontaneous reaction to allegations of blasphemy but were planned in advance, a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has found.

The mission’s report, released on Tuesday, said announcements made from mosques in Gojra on July 31 urged the Muslims to gather and “make mincemeat of the Christians”. Witnesses told HRCP that when they informed the police about the announcements, the police officials had also confirmed hearing the announcements.

On the following day, August 1, around 1,000 people gathered in the town and marched towards Christian Colony. A police contingent present in the neighbourhood did not try to stop the mob, which included a number of masked men.

Witnesses said the attackers went about destroying Christians’ houses in a very professional manner, and seemed to be trained for carrying out such activities. They had brought along petrol and other inflammable substances and torched over 40 houses of Christian families in less than half an hour. Many of these houses were looted before being torched. Muslims’ houses adjacent to the Christians’ houses were spared.

Witnesses said a number of attackers were from the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and other militant organisations. The Regional Police Officer (RPO) told HRCP that many of the attackers had come from outside the district, possibly from Jhang.

Amid the brutal killings and destruction in Gojra, the Commission also noted that some Muslims in the neighbourhood provided shelter to Christian women fleeing the violence.

The barbaric attacks are an embarrassment for any society or people who call themselves civilised.

HRCP believes that the local administration’s inaction ahead of the riots was intriguing.

HRCP said the tragic incidents of Gojra are a comprehensive failure by the government to protect minorities either through administrative measures or legislative ones. The culprits, including the local administration, must be brought to justice in an expeditious and transparent manner, HRCP said.

The government must act to prevent any attacked based on a person’s faith, instead of belatedly reacting through award of compensation. It must also ensure that its vows of ensuring interfaith harmony move beyond rhetoric, the HRCP report concluded.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

HRCP Press Release on Gojra and Korian Incident

Press Release, 1 August 2009

The religious riots in Korian village and Gojra are frightening, where Islamic Religious Zealots have taken the law into their own hands. According to information of HRCP, some local Muslims made allegations against Talib Masih, Mukhtar Masih and Imran Masih for burning the Holy Quran. The accused denied it vehemently and yet angry crowd of Muslims lead by religious preachers burnt down several Christian houses on July 30th, 2009, the day a wedding was to take place between the children of the two accused. Islamic militants from the outside the village has created an atmosphere of fear and has destroyed and burnt property using firearms and explosive. Six people have reportedly been killed and several wounded or burnt. The situation remains tense.

HRCP urges the Chief Minister to intervene and save the lives of innocent Christians living in Gojra, Korian and villages nearby. Those who violated the law be arrested and an independent investigation be conducted. Anyone, who has given rise to an atmosphere of hostility against a minority community should be apprehended and tried.

Dr. Mehdi Hassan
Vice chairperson
HRCP

Cosmetic changes won’t resolve militancy: HRCP

Press Release, July 21, 2009

Lahore: While welcoming the return of the Malakand IDPs to their homes as a positive development, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has warned the government that no cosmetic shift in the security policies will solve the crisis of militancy and that efforts in a new dimension will be needed to achieve that end.

Based on the conclusions of a quick fact-finding mission to the Frontier province, led by Ms Asma Jahangir, the HRCP statement issued on Tuesday said:

“The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is monitoring the gradual return of the IDPs from Malakand Division to their homes. This is a positive development and gives peace a chance. It also presents a brief window of opportunity for reversing the trend towards Talibanisation but this opportunity may be lost if a cohesive policy is not adopted and civilian infrastructure not put in place, an infrastructure that can sustain peace.

It is important to recognise the collective role played by the humanitarian agencies as well as the civilian and military administration in making the early return of the IDPs possible. Even more crucial to this turn of events was the exemplary behaviour of the displaced people and their local hosts. The displaced people found their own way to safety under extremely tough conditions and are now making their way home on their own. They have little faith in the government and there is a serious deficit of trust between the local population and the military.

In order to build trust as well as to sustain peace HRCP believes that the government must take a new direction. There was near unanimity amongst official and non-official interlocutors that met with HRCP during their missions to Pakhtoonkhwa (NWFP) that any cosmetic shift in the security policies of the government will not solve the crisis of militancy in Pakistan.

HRCP believes:

* It is crucial that the policy of “bleeding India” and maintaining a strategic depth in Afghanistan be reviewed. In short, the national security paradigm must shift to the need to keep pace with the political realities of the region. There are indications that this has so far not happened.

* The government must distance itself from the ideology of pan-Islamism.

* The nucleus of the top militant leadership must be taken apart and their communication and financial infrastructure dismantled. There are no indications that this has happened either. On the contrary, there are well-founded suspicions that certain elements known for their pro-Taliban policies continue to protect a number of top militant leaders.

* The operation in Malakand Division must not lose sight of the strong militant presence in FATA. Peace will not return to Swat unless militant networks in FATA are defeated.

* Simultaneous action must also be carried out against all militant networks in other parts of the country, particularly the Punjab, where militants operate with impunity.

* The civil and political administration must take command on the ground in Swat soon. There is a comprehensive plan of recruiting and equipping the police force in Pakhtoonkhwa. The number of police stations in the Malakand Division is to be doubled and the police force tripled. It appears that the civil administration is also preparing a comprehensive plan for better governance in the province. The resources provided to them will, however, be monitored by a serving army general on behalf of the Federation. The Awami National Party leaders plan to visit Swat on a regular basis now but almost all IDPs resented the bunkerisation of the political leadership while they faced all the risks and tragic deaths of their families.

* Access for independent journalists and observers to the area must be ensured. So far, the military has only encouraged embedded journalism to an embarrassing extent. At times local journalists have openly raised slogans in support of the military. Foreign journalists have accused the authorities of misleading them by giving false names of the places they were taken to for reporting. There are several reports of reprisals against journalists by the militants as well as by the security forces.

* Human rights violations should be closely monitored both during and post-conflict. HRCP was appalled at reports of extrajudicial killings carried out by security forces. Militant leader Maulvi Misbahuddin was apprehended by the security forces and later the bodies of Misbahuddin and his son were found in Bacha Bazar. The government claims that they were killed in an encounter while eyewitnesses hold that they were arrested by the police in Mardan. Amir Izzat, spokesperson of the Swat militants, was arrested from Amandara. Two days later the authorities claimed that Izzat was killed allegedly by militants trying to rescue him when they attacked the vehicle taking him to jail. Independent journalists claim that the targeted vehicle shown to them did not even have an engine. The most harrowing reports were of dead bodies strewn upside down by the military with notes attached to the bodies warning that anyone supporting the Taliban will meet the same fate. There must be a difference between the actions of agents of the State and those of fanatical non-state actors. Such tactics only terrorise and dehumanise society. HRCP urges the government to impart training to the security forces and familiarise them with human rights and humanitarian law. HRCP has also received credible reports of the security forces resorting to collective punishments, forcible occupation of orchards and the use of indiscriminate and excessive force.

* All human rights violations during the conflict must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. There are reports of reprisals which can only be discouraged if the State fulfills its obligation of providing justice through due process.

* HRCP has received reports of children abandoned during the conflict being handed over to dubious NGOs. It is vital that the provincial government keep track of the adoption of every single child and ensure that children are reunited with their families or are looked after by well-intentioned groups.”

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson