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

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

Targeted Killings in Karachi

Press Release, 9 June 2009

Karachi: In a statement issued on Tuesday 09th June 2009, HRCP Vice-chairperson (Sindh) Ghazi Salahuddin has expressed deep concern over the alarming rise of violence in Sindh that is highlighted by the latest spate of targeted killings in Karachi. Following is the text of the statement:

At a time when the nation’s attention is focused on the counter-insurgency operation of the armed forces in northern areas and on the massive humanitarian crisis that it has spawned, a virtual breakdown of law or order in Sindh, particularly in Karachi, is a matter of deep concern for all law-abiding citizens. An environment of fear and insecurity that this situation has caused is generating lack of respect for basic human and democratic rights of the people.

Karachi has always had a potential for violence and disorder, a potential that has been expanded by poor governance and political expediencies. The present situation has been in the making for some time and it is disquieting to see that parties that are together in the ruling coalition have also been engaged in bitter rivalries that have exacerbated tensions and emboldened armed political/criminal factions.

The inability of the provincial administration to enforce rule of law and protect life and property of the citizens has raised the level of anxiety and uncertainty to an extent that the entire social equilibrium of the society is threatened. As for targeted killings in Karachi, apparently old rivalries and some new developments are involved. The complexity of this situation demands a combined effort on the part of all political and ethnic and linguistic factions to protect peace and social harmony in the city.

One measure of the gravity of the law and order situation in Karachi is that the number of political activists killed in the first week of this month has exceeded 35. It is extremely worrying that killers, who tend to appear suddenly, riding motorbikes, in often congested localities, are not apprehended by law enforcement agencies. This failure calls for a new strategy to reverse the rising tide of violence, with the sincere involvement of the political as well as the administrative arms of the provincial government.

Ghazi Salahuddin

Co-Chairperson

HRCP Sindh Chapter