HRCP demands independent inquiry into extrajudicial killing in Swat

Press Release, 17 August 2009

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has rebutted the denial of extra-judicial killings by security agencies in Swat operation by ISPR’s Swat Media Centre and has demanded of the government to hold a transparent and impartial inquiry into this issue by a multi-party parliamentary committee in collaboration with the representatives of the civil society.

In response to ISPR’s statement published in a section of the press on August 16, a statement issued by the HRCP said on Monday: “The Commission reiterates that it has come across credible accounts of extrajudicial killings and complaints of reprisal attacks by the security forces during the operation in Swat.

Some of the better known instances include the death of militant leader Maulvi Misbahuddin –credible evidence shows he had been 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 for 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.

In its statement the ISPR has conceded the presence of mass graves in the conflict-hit area. However, HRCP believes that this is not enough and the government must conduct a transparent inquiry into this issue to ascertain the circumstances under which the bodies were buried. The military cannot simply explain the existence of these mass graves by alleging that the bodies were of militants buried by other militants. HRCP has knowledge of other versions to the contrary. HRCP suggests that a multi-party parliamentary committee should be formed to conduct an inquiry into this issue as well as into the reports of extrajudicial killings to which HRCP will extend its cooperation.

HRCP also demanded of the government to clarify whether the government considers it as an internal law and order situation on which human rights are applied or does it treat it as an armed conflict that comes under humanitarian law.

HRCP will be happy if an impartial inquiry proves that extrajudicial killings did not take place in Swat but this sensitive matter cannot be disposed of through off-the-cuff statements by intelligence agency’s denial-writers.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

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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

HRCP against Encroaching personal freedoms

Press Release, July 17, 2009

LAHORE,: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemns the government’s move intended to use state power to prosecute and punish certain kind of messaging through cellular phone networks and content on the websites and calls upon the government to withdraw such measures and desist from introducing any law to this effect.

The HRCP statement said:

In recent days, federal government representatives have expressed the government’s intention to introduce a law to prosecute and punish people who indulge in certain kind of messaging (SMS) through cellular phone networks.

The government has announced that messages containing any content against the state or immoral material would be punishable under the law. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan views proposed measures with concern and as an intrusion into the personal liberties of citizens. The government seems to be embarrassed by criticism of certain government officials and policies and actions in the messaging of the people on cell phones and blogs on websites and intends to muzzle the people’s voice by curtailing their freedom of expression.

The Commission is of the view that this is not the way to persuade people to respect a government which does not earn this status by its deeds. The Commission also believes that the recent modification in the government’s stance that the law would be directed against those who speak against the state and not against those who only attack the government is meaningless because in Pakistan the government has often been treated as the state.

The Commission demands of the government to stay away from enforcing any legislation to this effect which will not only be violation of people’s human rights but hamper the nascent democratic process in the country.  The HRCP is of view that the new means of electronic communication pose a challenge to all governments and societies and a way will have to be found to deal with the explosion of communication without encroaching upon personal freedoms.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson

HRCP urges security for Bugti’s niece

Press Release, April 29

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the president of Pakistan and the Punjab chief minister to ensure that Samia Mazari, a niece of Nawab Akbar Bugti and mother-in-law of Brahamdagh Bugti, is provided protection against harassment by intelligence agency operatives.

In letters addressed to President Asif Ali Zardari and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, HRCP has drawn attention to Ms. Mazari’s harassment at the hands of intelligence agency members who have been following and harassing her in Lahore and have threatened to kill her.

The letter urged the president and the chief minister to take prompt action “to ensure that Ms. Mazari’s security is guaranteed and that she is not harassed merely because of her relationship with a person about whom somebody in government may have unfavourable ideas”.

I.A. Rehman

Secretary General

Musharraf’s stance on disappearances is wrong: HRCP

Press Release, April 28

 

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has rejected as “absolutely untenable” the claim made by former president Pervez Musharraf that most of the “disappeared” persons had gone missing on their own.

 

In a statement issued on Tuesday following the former president’s recent interview with Al-Jazeera TV – in which he denied the role of state agencies in “enforced disappearances” and claimed the missing persons had voluntarily disappeared to join jihad, the Commission said: “That loss of power causes dementia and other disorders is amply demonstrated by General Musharraf’s recent interview and denial of state agencies’ well documented role in the illegal practice of enforced disappearance.

 

While some individuals may have gone away on their own, the statement that all victims of enforced disappearance had gone missing voluntarily to join the jihad without informing their families is absolutely untenable. It contradicts undeniable evidence and numerous accounts of those who have regained freedom after being missing for various periods.

 

It is ironic that the former president should deny the role of state agencies during his rule, which was acknowledged by the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights in February 2007, when it urged the government to present all ‘missing’ persons before courts and give them an opportunity to defend themselves. The committee had observed that the response received from the government had been ‘inadequate and too little’ and it had taken ‘too much time’. It had said it was not sufficient for the government to say that a missing person was wanted in a case. ‘The civilised world no longer buys such versions. Whatever be the charges, they should be properly probed and documented and a legal course of action should be resorted to,’ the committee had said.

 

It was during the Musharraf regime that the Supreme Court expressed dismay at the lack of government’s cooperation in the missing persons case. If his government had nothing to hide, why did he refer to the Supreme Court’s investigation into the matter as ‘constant interference in executive functions’ in the November 3, 2007 proclamation of emergency? What of the scores of people released, ‘traced’ or produced in court by state agencies? Did that not happen either?

 

One would have ignored Musharraf’s fulminations as being undeserving of a response but for the possibility of his plans to again assume leadership of the enemies of democracy and basic freedoms.

 

The government must depart from the previous regime’s ways by coming clean on the illegal practice and set the record straight and facilitate the recovery and release of all the missing Pakistanis wherever they may be.”

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

 

HRCP aghast at the extrajudicial killings of three Baloch nationalists

Press Release, April 9, 2009

Lahore: The killings, allegedly by the security forces, of Baloch Nationalists are a dangerous provocation and a grave violation of human rights. HRCP has credible information that Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir and Sher Mohammad, office holders of Baloch Republican Party and Balochistan National Party, were picked up on 3rd April 2009 by people in plain clothes, who were accompanied by two vehicles of Frontier Corps that stood at a distance. It is reported by credible sources that the three victims were sitting in the office of their lawyer after having attended a court hearing when they were forcibly picked up, blindfolded and taken in cars, closely followed by vehicles belonging to the Frontier Corps. A number of people witnessed the abduction. Mutilated bodies of the three victims were found in an isolated place near Turbat in the early hours of the morning.

The facts strongly suggest that members of state security picked up the three victims, tortured and killed them before dumping their dead bodies, which were discovered in a mutilated and decayed form. HRCP is aghast at this brazen violation of human rights and calls upon the government to get this incident thoroughly investigated so that the perpetrators are brought to justice. It is crucial that the authorities condemn this act and warn the security forces from taking the law into their own hands. Persecution of Baloch Nationalists must be stopped and the policy of hounding or maligning them through illegal means be abandoned by the authorities. Those involved in any criminal activities must be dealt with according to the law rather than through arbitrary and foul means. It is imperative that the government set up a high level Commission to identify those who indulged in involuntary disappearances, torture and extra judicial killings of hundreds of Baloch activists during and after the Musharraf regime. Victims must be compensated and offenders identified and brought to trial. HRCP warns that the free hand given to the security forces in Balochistan in violating the rights of Baloch nationalists will alienate the people of the Province and escalate the level of violence in the Province. Political demands must be met with political solutions and not through brute force.

Asma Jahangir
Chairperson HRCP

Avoid War Hysteria

From South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) network

Dated: 05-01-2009

 

There are times like the present, when truth must be told to powers, however, unpalatable it may be, and however one may be viciously misunderstood. But nevertheless speaking has to be done because in times like this, to keep silent is a sin and to speak is a duty.

 

There was justifiable anger, anguish at Mumbai Terrorist attack; and indignation at Pakistan government refusing to even acknowledge that terrorists came from Pakistan added to serious Indo-Pak tension. The instant denial by Pakistan that its territory had been used by LeT connected terrorists could, though regretful would have been allowed to pass. One could understand Pakistan denying that ISI had any hand in it – but to have gone to the shameful length of suggesting that Mumbai attack was a ‘ploy of India’ or was stage managed by India government not only by those in government, but even in media & disappointingly even by some of those who have been part of third track group, was indeed shocking and hurtful to friends of Pakistan in India.

 

Similarly the reaction of sober Indian government ministers openly suggesting that India was prepared to take any options, (impliedly even war) so egged on by media and rival political establishment was certainly regretful and not a sign of mature statesmanship.

 

The situation has got further heated up by the irresponsible and provocative suggestion of BJP President Raj Nath Singh that India could consider the option of military blockade of Karachi and Indian Government should take international community into confidence and persuade the launch of joint military action under UN Security supervision against the terrorists in Pakistan.  The provocative speech of the BJP President has been allowed to quietly pass off not only by the party but even the media at large, because somehow an atmosphere is being created where to call for restraint and dealing with sanity Indo-Pak relations is considered anti-patriotic. 

 

Equally irresponsible and provocative and no doubt instigated by unworthy consideration of political one man up ship was statements by Digvijay Singh, General Secretary of the Congress and Jaiswal, Minister of State for Home, who both boasted publicly that Mumbai terrorists had demanded the release of the hostages but the Government of India had rejected it, unlike yielding by the BJP Government in the Kandhar episode.  But soon thereafter they had to eat their own words because neither the Maharashtra Government nor the Central Government accepted its truthfulness.  The irresponsible and shamelessness of such provocative remarks, specially by Jaiswal, Minister of State for Home in the Central Government ( who is expected to know better provided of course if he is attending to his job) taking an indefensible plea of relying on non existent media story, beats all limits.

 

Similar unfortunate and indefensible attitude was reflected in the public stand of Pakistan President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, who instead of accepting the obvious proof of Pakistan territory having been used by the terrorists, chose to deny it and raising war cries instead. And this inspite of U.S.A. media saying that FBI has accepted the conclusion of Indian authorities that Mumbai Massacre shows the involvement of Laskar, its leaders Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, who are based in Pakistan. It would be understandable if Pakistan government was to deny the involvement of I.S.I. (India may have felt saying “tell that to marines”; but could have lived with these normal diplomatic cover ups). But Pakistan must at least accept that what it describes as non actors (including Kasab, the terrorist held by India) are from Pakistan. This will immediately reduce the mutual tension and one upmanship by India and Pakistan. The further question whether these terrorists in Pakistan should be handed over to U.S.A. (because amongst killed were USA nationals) or to India or Pakistan will try them itself are though important but still secondary question. This approach by both the countries would have immediately dispelled the clouds of danger of war. But sad that both the countries are willing to hold closed door conferences with U.S.A. but not even official open business like meetings with each other. This is cliff hanging game and puts both the countries in danger of becoming surrogates of U.S.A. Imperialist design.

 

Unfortunately saner counsel in India in coming under pressure by the nearness of General Elections to the Parliament which are to be held by May at the latest.  I feel that if further downward slide in Indo – Pak relations is to be avoided it is essential that General Elections be held, if possible, in February but the latest by the first week of April.  I say this because it is now commonly accepted that because of the nearness of the General Elections, parties otherwise sober become the victims of “vote bank politics” as pointed out by our Prime Minister in his recent Bhim Sen Sachar Memorial lecture in December, 2008 – in fact the Prime Minister has commendably made it absolutely clear “that there was never a question of war, but only of terrorism”. Should not President Zardari, Nawaz Shariff reciprocate the agony of India and help to defuse the warlike tension being builtup in India and Pakistan, and horror of horror, both countries may become victims of unintended war like the First World War started, just because some mischief maker shot down the Prince of Austria.

 

However it is somewhat of a relief to know the welcome news that India and Pakistan, only a few days back exchanged a list of their nuclear facilities – a further reiteration of President Zardari speech that Indo – Pak dialogue can ease tensions shows recognition of stark truth that military confrontation can have disastrous consequences for the region.

 

I feel that both government should immediately allow TV, Radio channels to operate freely in both the countries. The people at large should know that apart from hawkish governments posture, there are innumerable seasoned sensible leaders, organizations in both countries who do not approve of their respective governments stand. Overwhelming number in both the countries realize the disastrous consequence of Indo – Pak war. Let this silent majority be allowed to interact with each other – may be in a little short time people to people contact between the two countries be allowed as of before – because this alone will act as impregnable shield against the vagaries and moods of hawks in both the countries.

 

Rajindar Sachar

New Delhi, India