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 wants proactive govt measures to curb violence against minorities

Press Release, 14 September 2009

Lahore, September 14: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Monday expressed concern over increasing frequency of violent attacks on religious minorities and demanded that the government take proactive measures to prevent such violence.

Reacting to the recent torching of a church in Sambarial, Sialkot district, HRCP said in a press statement: “The Commission has been warning the government of the growing intolerance of religious minorities’ rights and pointing towards the increasing frequency of vigilante actions against them. It has repeatedly expressed concern at attacks on non-Muslims over allegations of blasphemy and desecration of religious scriptures. It is unfortunate that our fears of recurrence of such violence again proved to be true in Sambarial last week.

The government response in the face of a recent spurt in incidents of violence against minorities – mainly belated announcements of financial compensation and some attempts at encouraging reconciliation at the local level – has clearly been insufficient and exclusively reactive.

The Commission would emphasise that another attack targeting the minorities is a question of when, not if, unless the government acknowledges in a meaningful manner the threat extremism and intolerance pose to society, understand the dynamics fuelling the phenomenon and take urgent and effective remedial measures.

The allegations of blasphemy or defiling of religious scriptures, irrespective of their veracity, do not warrant vigilante attacks. Nor do they absolve the government of its primary duty to protect all citizens. Effective prosecution would serve as a deterrent to future attacks, while a lack thereof would encourage impunity.”

I. A. Rehman, Secretary-General

Factory owner was killed in police presence

Press Release, 7 August 2009

Lahore: The recent killing of a factory-owner in Sheikhupura at the hands of an angry mob took place in the presence of unarmed policemen, which reflects on poor professional capacity of the Punjab police in handling such sensitive and volatile situations, says the Human Rights Commission which conducted a fact-finding mission on the incident.

The HRCP team found out that on August 4 the police had arrived at the scene of the incident at Eastern Leather Factory Muridke when the factory-owner Mr Najib Zafar was in his office and he was wounded in a scuffle with some angry factory workers. Eye-witnesses told HRCP that the police hid Mr Najib in a store-room so as to keep him away from some violent workers.

The police men who arrived at the factory were un-armed and could not prevent the violent crowd of villagers outside the factory from entering the premises of the factory. When the provoked villagers and the factory workers teamed up to storm the store-room, the policemen looked the other way to save their own skin. The mob was free to beat the owner to death. A labourer, Muzammil, also lost his life due to a stray bullet.

HRCP found that a factory clerk, Qasim Ali, exaggerated the fall of a calendar inscribed with Quranic verses as a desecration of Quran to instigate fellow factory workers against the owner. Soon after this, extremist elements in Muridke area made provocative announcements of the alleged desecration of Quran from the mosques of nearby villages without confirming the facts and incited the common people to attack the factory owner and kill him.

HRCP observed that after the incident, a widespread fear exists among factory owners in the region that the spread of such baseless rumours by unhappy factory workers against an owner may result in a replay of similar incident.

The family of the victim, Najib Zafar, told the HRCP team that they wanted the repeal of the blasphemy law for it has been abused by the extremist people like the factory clerk, Qasim Ali, to achieve their own nefarious objectives and spread violence.

HRCP also demands of the Punjab government to hold special refresher courses for the police staff to handle such delicate situations and act professionally on such occasions.

HRCP was told that there are more than 500 workers in the factory but there exists no trade union. It believes had there been a trade union there, it would have worked to channelize and resolve the grievances of the workers and to prevent such a violent incident.

HRCP is of the view that the government must ensure the implementation of Amplifier Act so that the loud-speakers of mosques could not be used by extremist elements to spread hostility and violence as it happened recently in Gojra and now in Sheikhupura.

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

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

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