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

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