HRCP urges Pakistan, India to resume prisoner swap, stop arrests for minor violations

Press Release, 5 August 2009

Lahore: As the Pakistani and Indian governments exhibit a welcome resolve to resume dialogue, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urges them to also reconsider the plight of each other’s nationals incarcerated in prisons across the border, institute long-term policies to de-criminalise minor visa or border-crossing violations and stop violating Article 73 (Enforcement of laws and regulations of the coastal State) of the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that prohibits the arrest of fishermen crossing a maritime border.

HRCP urges an early resumption of the process of reciprocal exchange of prisoners, halted since the Mumbai attacks.

HRCP endorses the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s demand for a permanent solution that includes a policy in which Pakistan and India stop arresting each other’s fishermen for maritime boundary violations. Such detentions routinely violate Article 73 of UNCLOS, according to which penalties for violations “may not include imprisonment, in the absence of agreements to the contrary by the States concerned, or any other form of corporal punishment”.

When making such arrests, the security agencies also seize boats, equipment and catch worth lakhs of rupees. Dozens of such boats, representing the hard work and sweat of the poor, lie rotting in harbours on either side.

Pakistan and India allow each other’s arrested citizens no access to consular services until after they have served their prison terms. Many languish for years in brutal conditions. They have no legal rights or the ability to challenge their arrest or engage a lawyer. Normally their families remain oblivious of their arrests, location of prisons and the conditions there.

Cases come to public notice when prisoners’ families or friends are lucky to acquire information, take up the issue and notify the media. Engaging lawyers across the divide also adds to the woes of the incarcerated prisoners and their families. Such families often remain long ignorant of the arrest and whereabouts of their loved ones. Sometimes, even after prisoners are returned, they have nowhere to go if they have lost track of their families, or their families have disowned them.

Use of torture as well as negligence is rampant in prisons in both countries.  This has resulted in the loss of lives as well as leaving many prisoners on both sides physically and mentally scarred for life.

The two States must ensure that each other’s nationals are repatriated at the earliest and that they are not denied basic human rights in prisons merely on account of their nationality.

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

ICJ: Fight against impunity must be continued on International Justice Day

COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE – COMUNICADO DE PRENSA
For immediate release     17 July 2009
ICJ: Fight against impunity must be continued on International Justice Day

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomes International Justice Day 2009. “The fight against impunity and for international justice has made positive progress in the last decade, not least with the commencement of the first cases at the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, international justice continues to encounter obstacles in its development. The ICJ, the legal community and all the human rights movement must continue their efforts to attain universal justice and an end to impunity”, the ICJ said.

The ICJ reiterates that all States have the right under international law to prosecute and try people responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and other crimes under international law, such as torture, extrajudicial execution and enforced disappearances, regardless of the nationality of the victim or the alleged perpetrators or the territory where the crimes were committed. The ICJ also recalls that, in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction, the State has the imperative international obligation to extradite or to bring the accused to its own national courts.

The ICJ is deeply concerned at the African Union’s decision inviting Member States not to enforce the Arrest Warrant delivered by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. “Such a decision encourages African States, which are Members of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, to defy their obligations under the UN Charter and the Rome Statute”, said the ICJ, “The ICJ calls on the African Union and its Member States to retract this position and re-align themselves with their international law obligations.”

“The ICJ encourages States to enact laws allowing their national tribunals to prosecute, try and punish those responsible of crimes under international law in application of the principle of universal jurisdiction”, said the ICJ. The ICJ is concerned at the recent initiative of the Spanish Parliament to limit its universal jurisdiction.

The ICJ commends the ratification by 109 States of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The ICJ invites all remaining States to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute. “The International Criminal Court is an instrument of paramount importance for international justice. The ICJ supports the Court’s work and welcomes the commencement of its first cases”, said the ICJ, “Universal ratification of the Rome Statute is fundamental in contributing to end impunity.”

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HRCP urges end to endemic torture

Press Release, 25 June 2009

LAHORE: The use of torture by state agents continues to be endemic despite Islamabad’s signing of the Convention Against Torture and this situation must end, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has said.

In a statement issued on the eve of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 26), HRCP said, “While signing the Convention Against Torture in April last year, Pakistan had expressed its commitment to ensure that torture would become a thing of the past. Yet torture remains endemic in Pakistan and has in fact increased as a result of the so-called war on terror, even though international human rights law explicitly states that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.

Also, in the absence of proper investigation techniques in the country, those tasked with investigation of crime rely almost exclusively on torture to extract confessions.

Pakistan must take meaningful steps to guarantee due respect for human person by outlawing torture. Those guilty of it must be prosecuted and punished. As first steps in this direction the Convention Against Torture should be ratified forthwith and domestic legislation necessary for its implementation must be undertaken on priority basis.”

I. A. Rehman

Secretary General