Curbing jail riots impossible without prison reform: HRCP

Press Release, October 17, 2008

malir jail - dawn
malir jail – dawn

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed serious concern at recent incidents of prison unrest in the country and asked the government to undertake urgent prison reform instead of depending on short-term measures.

 

In a statement issued on Friday, HRCP said: “The recent rioting in prisons of Hyderabad, Karachi, Multan and Timergara and the loss of life there is tragic but unfortunately not unexpected. These incidents are a result of problems left unresolved for decades.

 

The issue is certainly bigger than prison riots or attempted jailbreaks alone. Appalling overcrowding, rampant corruption, torture, unhygienic food, lack of health facilities and staff training, tardy judicial process, inefficient investigation and prosecution are all key issues that have not been addressed and cannot be wished away.

 

Numerous committees set up in the past 20 years for prison reform have danced around these issues without meaningfully tackling them. Many useful proposals advanced by them have been ignored.

 

Measures such as suspending jail officials, registering cases against prisoners accused of rioting, and shifting detainees to other jails to avoid recurrence skirt the real issue. Reported torture and beating of prisoners following the riots is no solution, nor is providing police more teargas shells and smoke bombs, as is being considered following the riot in the Hyderabad jail.

 

According to the jail surgeon, the prisoners shot dead during rioting at Karachi’s Malir District Jail by guards had all been shot in the head or chest.  This is hardly the ideal method for riot control or a use of minimum force needed to quell the rioting and points to deficient training for jail staff at the very least.

 

The top leadership of the country is aware of the problems facing the prison system as they too have served extended jail terms. They have also suggested immediate remedial measures, which must be implemented.

 

Prisoners’ rights, including their right to life and dignity, must be observed in all circumstances and their safety ensured. Punishments other than penal servitude should also be considered, especially for petty crimes, to reduce population of jails already holding prisoners many times over their capacity. Prisoners must also be allowed communication with their family and lawyers via phone, at least under supervision. The criminal justice system needs to be reviewed and an adequate number of judicial officers ensured to tackle undue delay in deciding cases. The approach toward the prison system needs to be changed — the prisoner and the jailer both need to be humanised and terms of service of jail staff improved. A change in the Code of Criminal Procedure in October 2001 took away a provision regarding mandatory bail to prisoners whose trial had not begun for two years. This was presumably done to deny the provision’s benefit to political prisoners, but has led to massive swelling in the prison population.

 

The government must earnestly pursue a crash programme to deal with the issues and ensure that reforming prisoners must be central to any prison reform initiative.”

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

HRCP seeks abolition of death penalty, moratorium on executions

Press Release, October 10

 

Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called upon the government to end the death penalty in the country, and place an immediate moratorium on executions until the punishment is abolished.

 

In a statement issued on World Day against the Death Penalty on Friday, the Commission said: The government of Pakistan should seriously consider moving towards the abolition of death penalty. While the government’s announcement in June to commute death sentences to life imprisonment was admirable, it has not been followed up by action.

 

The pronouncement of punishment and executions continue in Pakistan amid the acknowledged and well documented critical defects of the law, of the administration of justice, of the police investigation methods, the chronic corruption and the cultural prejudices affecting women and religious minorities. In the circumstances, the punishment allows for a high probability of miscarriages of justice, which is wholly unacceptable in any civilised society, but even more so when the punishment is irreversible.

 

The HRCP notes that, contrary to the much vaunted argument of deterrence, the systematic and generalised application of death penalty has not led to an improvement of the situation of law and order in the country.

 

It is ironic that while Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world – with around 7,000 convicts on the death row in Pakistan today –  yet its law and order situation is alarmingly dismal. The massive application of death penalty has not strengthened the rule of law, but its application has, much on the contrary, weakened it substantially.

 

The death penalty is discriminatory, unfair and utterly inefficient and must be abandoned in accordance with the international human rights law.

 

In the very least the government should also promptly restrict the number of offences carrying the death sentence to the most serious crimes only, and refrain from adopting new crimes entailing capital punishment, in conformity with international human rights standards. Imposition of capital punishment, if it is to be passed at all must be in the rarest of cases and execution of it as a measure of last resort.

 

In the meanwhile, the government must adopt an immediate moratorium on executions in light of the serious shortcomings of due process and fair trial in the criminal justice system. There is a serious danger of miscarriage of justice resulting in taking an innocent life if executions are carried out without serious review of the law and its practice. It is vital that the criminal legal system be thoroughly reformed to reduce the incidence of crimes and to ensure that wrong persons do not suffer through being implicated falsely in cases. This alone will bring us closer to achieving justice.

 

There must also be an immediate end to the sentencing and execution of minors, and death sentences pronounced against persons who were below 18 at the time of the offence should be forthwith commuted.

 

Pakistan must take the path of conforming its practices to international human rights norms. So far it has only challenged these at all forums.

 

Asma Jahangir

Chairperson

Urgent Appeal to Stop Hanging

Press Release, October 6

 

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan strongly appeals to President of Pakistan to revoke hanging of Zulfiqar Ali in Adyala Jail Rawalpindi who’s Red Warrants were issued for his hanging on 8th October, 2008.

 

Zulfiqar Ali is in Jail since 1998 on charge of murder. He was very poor to afford a lawyer to defend himself and did not had a chance of fair trial and basic norms of justice.

 

It is reported that wife of Zulfiqar Ali died of Cancer during his trial and has left two minor girls and no one is to look after them.

 

As recently announced by the Prime Minister of Pakistan that death sentences would be abolished, HRCP reminds and urges that death sentence should be abolished.

 

Iqbal Haider

Co-Chairperson

HRCP, Awaz demand urgent attention to Punjab’s tribal area

Press Release, August 22

 

Lahore: The participants of a national consultation organized by Awaz Foundation Pakistan and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Friday demanded the government pay immediate attention to alleviating the problems faced by the people of the Provincially Administered Tribal Area in southern Punjab.

 

The themes for discussion at the consultation included the social, economic and political rights in PATA; the government’s responsibility to ensure basic rights to all without discrimination; its failure to integrate the area with the settled area since the creation of Pakistan; political parties’ responsibility to ensure representation of honest and competent people; and possibilities for ensuring opportunities for the area that are available elsewhere in the country.

 

The participants said the tribal area of DG Khan and Rajanpur in southern Punjab is the least developed region in Pakistan. DG Khan and Rajanpur are at the bottom of the national and Punjab quality-wise scale, but the PATA area contagious to the two districts is even more deprived.

 

The discussion was conducted on the basis of extensive studies done by Awaz Foundation Pakistan. Following the consultation, the assembly called upon the government to:

 

  • immediately create a Punjab PATA Development authority to look at the PATA infrastructure, including roads;
  • that the Ministry of Women Development should ensure its presence in the area to ensure that the issue facing women are addressed;
  • appoint special education officers to the area to ensure a specific focus on women education as the current measures for that have failed;
  • withdraw the Frontier Crimes Regulation from the area;
  • consider replacing the Border Military Police with a more responsible police force;
  • abolish the influence of Sardars;
  • establish a Fort Munroe Development Authority to develop the hill station, which offers the same climate as Murree, and can provide employment opportunities to the area’s population;
  • assign a separate development body to monitor and ensure environmental standards in PATA areas of southern Punjab, especially threats of environmental degradation due to oil exploration and extraction, uranium and other mining and operations of a large cement plant in the area;
  • build small dams and revise local water conservation projects on modern basis to not only avoid the damage caused by floods and hill torrents but also ensure regular irrigation for agriculture;
  • launch a crash programme to ensure that the overwhelming majority of schools in the area that are not functioning become operative;
  • ensure that all government institutions created to address the area’s problems have participation of and input from the local community in the decision-making process.
  • ensure the allocation of financial resources to improve the lot of the people there and the infrastructure in the area;
  • ensure that with extremist elements trying to get a foothold in the area, Talibanisation does not fill the vacuum created by lack of effective governance.
  • ensure that the industrial and mining concerns being run in the area translate into employment opportunities for the local population as well.

 

The assembly particularly requested:

  • The cement and mining companies in the area and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to undertake their corporate social responsibility to ensure that their operations do not cause environmental degradation;
  • The political leaders in the area to ensure, that besides promoting themselves politically, they also make sure that the areas’ problems are addressed.

I.A. Rehman

Secretary-General

 

Background info on the PATA area:

 

Rich with mineral resources, including uranium, PATA — consisting of the tribal area of D.G. Khan and Rajanpur — is by far the most neglected and backward part of Pakistan. Because of its administrative structure, feudal / tribal customs persist in which tribal chiefs and elders have the authority to disputes, whether evidence is available or not. Private jails are not uncommon.

 

Tribal chiefs enjoy the de facto right to represent people by virtue of their status. Only in a few areas are women allowed to cast their vote. Generally male relatives cast votes on behalf of the family’s women.

 

The fate of the people of PATA has remained largely unchanged since the creation of Pakistan. The main change in the last few decades has been exploration for oil and gas, and extraction of iron, gypsum and uranium from the area. This has brought little benefit or employment opportunities to the local people. They have, however, paid a steep price for that discovery. Drilling and mining operations have polluted groundwater, rendering it unusable. People are either forced to consume polluted water or use rainwater from ponds used by cattle.

 

Lack of roads and transportation has deprived people of education, health and employment opportunities. Even obvious income-generation avenues, such as developing potential for tourism, have not materialized for want of roads and of political will.

 

Vani, Karo Kari, exchange of women in marriage, Kala Kali and the sale of women declared Kali is commonplace. Almost 100 percent women in the eight Tummans of DG Khan and Rajanpur suffer from anaemia.

Peace activists disturbed over Kashmir violence

Press Release, August 26

 

Peace activists disturbed over Kashmir violence

 

A meeting held by leading human rights activists at Lahore on 26th August, 2008, expressed serious concerns at the developments taking place in Srinagar and Jummu. The participants denounced the arrest of Kashmiri leaders Mr. Yasin Malik, Mir waiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Gilani. They called for their immediate release. In addition the participant endorsed the Washington Declaration signed by peace activists concerned with the region. They called upon South Asian human rights activists to play a role in reaching reconciliation and rights in the region.

 

The participants unanimously endorsed the following.

  1. That the people of Jammu and Kashmir are central to the India-Pakistan peace process and representative dialogue and affirms that a sustainable and just solution of the Kashmir dispute can be achieved only through democratically established procedures for ascertaining the will of the people of the state  (as existing on 14/15 August 1947).
  2. That, in the context of the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh’s pledge for zero tolerance of human rights abuses, an independent and credible investigative commission should be set up to probe human rights abuses including the issue of mass graves recently discovered in the state.
  3. That the pace of India-Pakistan dialogue, particularly in relation to Jammu and Kashmir should be accelerated and given a realistic time frame. The dialogue should be inclusive and Kashmiris should be an integral part of this process.
  4. Urges that more Kashmir specific confidence buildings measures should be adopted, which will help in conquering fear and creating a congenial environment for a positive forward movement.
  5. Demand that all political prisoners languishing in jails, interrogation centres and detained under emergency laws should be immediately released.
  6. Demand that all draconian laws should be withdrawn and peoples’ fundamental freedoms and basic rights should be restored.
  7. Urges that all those elements who have tried to vitiate and communalize the state’s polity need to be identified and punished. While welcoming the withdrawal of the order to transfer land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, the conference condemns all efforts to communalize the situation.
  8. Demands that all internally and externally displaced people of Jammu and Kashmir, including Kashmiri Pandits, should be facilitated to return to their homes in safety and dignity.

 

Dr. Mubashir Hasan

Mr. I.A. Rehman

Asma Jahangir

Iqbal Haider

Salima Hashmi

Dr. Mehdi Hasan

Mr. Hassain Naqi

Hina Jilani

Zohra Yousaf

Shahtaj Qizilbash

Kamran Arif

Farooq Tariq

Nadeem Anthony

Munizae Jahangir