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In the context of human rights, 2008 was a year of opportunities and challenges. After the bleak human rights situation in 2007, it was believed that things could only get better, and in some areas they did as a civilian government emerged after nine years of dictatorship.
Though many of the expectations of a civilian set up were not fulfilled, significant steps were taken.
Pakistan signed or ratified three key UN human rights treaties, though steps for their implementation remained elusive. The new government initially thought of converting all death sentences into life imprisonment, but later on seemed to back paddle and introduced more laws punishable with death.
The elected government distinguished itself from the preceding dictatorship in allowing greater freedom of assembly, expression and movement. A new law on industrial relations freed the trade unions of some of the curbs imposed by the previous legislation.
In other areas, however, things remained as bad as they had earlier been.
Women continued to suffer more than the rest of the population at the hands of Taliban extremists, and on account of inhuman customs and traditions. Even unborn girls continued to pay for quarrels of their male relatives, and were married off to settle disputes.
The lot of victims of ‘enforced disappearances’ did not change. Citizens continued to face harassment by state agents and terrorists alike. At least 67 suicide attacks across Pakistan killed 973 people and injured 2,318. During the same period, at least 289 people were killed in police encounters.
The state’s keenness to hold talks with and give concessions to Taliban engaged in terrorizing civilians, blowing up government schools and butchering civilians and security personnel also remained unchanged. The use of military might remained the preferred option for dealing with militants in Balochistan, who demand greater control over the province’s resources.
Media’s concerns about curbs by the state diminished somewhat with the new government’s emergence, but the state failed to protect media persons against violence and threats from non-state actors.
Working for human rights generally remained a dangerous proposition. The extremist elements’ growth and threats to NGOs, lawyers, government officials and artists, were largely seen as a direct result of the authorities’ policy of appeasing them.
Legislation through the exercise of the President’s power to issue ordinances was not wholly given up by the civilian government. The government was slow in securing the people’s release from grinding poverty and unemployment with due seriousness.
There was a lack of urgency to address the problems of overcrowded prisons even by the country’s top leadership, which had until recently been imprisoned in the same jails.
In many areas, the state of affairs deteriorated considerably in 2008.
While election results of 2008 made it abundantly clear that the militants enjoyed very little support amongst the population, extremist militants’ sway and religious intolerance spread unchecked.
The government seemed to have lost control of vast areas to extremist militants. Its capacity to protect lives against terrorist attacks or other criminal acts suffered severe erosion in many areas. Government response to terrorism mostly comprised meaningless gestures of issuing alerts after suicide bombing, or announcing the number of suicide bombers believed to have entered various cities, speculating whether an explosion was a suicide bombing or not, and advising the harried citizens to look after themselves.
All evidence indicated that the prevailing militancy and large-scale internal displacement would be a long-term problem, but measures to deal with the challenges were largely inadequate or inappropriate. It is a measure of their desperation and lack of any semblance of security that hundreds of internally displaced families from Pakistan’s tribal areas fled to Afghanistan in search of safety.
The society’s descent into brutalisation was manifested in shocking incidents of mobs getting hold of suspected robbers and burning them alive.
Towards the end of 2008, the main political parties were on the verge of an encore of confrontational politics of the 1990s. The government seemed incapable of achieving consensus on crucial issues or imaginative solutions to the problems facing the country.
Lack of interest by the government in effectively addressing major human rights issues and the growing threat of extremism from non-state actors dampened hopes of 2009 being a better year in terms of human rights.
-- Najam U Din
Administration of justice
Cases on religious grounds
The most shocking incident in the category of cases involving allegations of offences against religion concerned Jagdish Kumar, a Hindu Pakistani, who was lynched in a factory in Korangi, the industrial area of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.
Some of the workers at the factory alleged that the 22-year-old Jagdish had made some blasphemous remarks against the Holy Prophet (PBUH). A large mob dragged him to a room on the factory premises and bludgeoned him to death. The police did arrive while he was alive but was unable, or unwilling, to intervene.
Another version of the cause of murder was some young workers’ jealousy at Jagdish’s intimacy with a female fellow-worker belonging to a different faith.
At least two cases of offences against religion were decided during the year, both in Punjab.
Shafique, belonging to Sialkot, was awarded death penalty and life imprisonment, by the trial court. He was accused of defiling the Holy Quran and passing derogatory remarks against the Prophet (PBUH) and was tried under sections 295-C and 295-B of the PPC. The case was registered in 2006.
In the other case, Mumtaz Husain of Hafizabad was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.
Two Ahmedis, Rana Khalil and Rashid Iqbal, both belonging to Kunri, Sindh, and three Ahmedis from Nankana Sahib in Punjab, were charged under section 295-C in new cases.
The 11 other new cases — 9 in Punjab, 2 in Sindh — against the Ahmedis were: (details undecipherable or missing from report).
The blasphemy law was promulgated in 1985 and in 1990 the punishment under this law, which sought to penalise irreverence towards the Holy Quran and insulting the Holy Prophet (PBUH), was life imprisonment. In 1992, the government introduced death penalty for a person guilty of blasphemy. Immediate abolition of ‘blasphemy’ laws is needed as these provisions are often used against non-Muslims as well as Muslims to settle personal scores.
School curriculum has to be sensitised toward non-Muslim Pakistanis so that children feel safe, secure and equal.
The Ahmadis have been denied the benefit of the joint electorate system which was revived in 2002. The discrimination should be ended.
The Commission on Minorities should be made functional by reinforcing its independent status and providing it with the necessary resources, human as well as financial.
Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Ban on public gatherings
On May 26, the district authorities in Jhang imposed a ban on the centenary celebrations of Jamaat-e-Ahmadia in Rabwah after Muslim religious organisations and clerics pushed the authorities to do so.
The state shall encourage local government institutions composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned and within such institutions special representation will be given to peasants, workers and women.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Challenges for women and minorities
The ECP compiled a separate electoral roll just for Ahmadis, distinguishing them from the list of all other eligible voters in the country. In addition to outright religious discrimination, a separate list for Ahmadis completely disregarded the spirit of the joint electorate, the Constitution of Pakistan, and the guarantee of international human rights. As had happened in previous elections, the Ahmadis chose not to participate in the elections.
Minorities / freedom of belief and religion
July 2: HRCP has expressed its serious concern at the authorities’ failure to redress the grievance of the unlawfully expelled Ahmadi students of the Punjab Medical College, Faisalabad, and urged firm action against the trouble-makers. The rustication of 23 Ahmadi students early last month on the ground of their belief was apparently a case of extraordinary discrimination. HRCP therefore requested a senior member of its governing body to probe the matter. This inquiry shows that while rusticating the unfortunate students the college administration did not follow the rules prescribed for this extreme action; that the committee of teachers set up to examine the victims after the event included teachers who were in the body that had taken the decision to rusticate them; and that the few students who appeared before the investigating committee were unduly harassed and intimidated. There were also indications that some members of the faculty colluded with the Ahmadi-baiting trouble-makers. HRCP is therefore seriously apprehensive of justice being denied to the unlawfully expelled students. It calls upon the provincial and federal governments both to intervene immediately to protect the wronged students and deal firmly with hate-preachers and disrupters of peace because much more than the career of Ahmadi students is at stake.
Article 260 (3) defines a “Muslim” and a “Non-Muslim”. A “Non-Muslim” is defined as a person who is not a Muslim and includes a “person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Budhist or Parsi community, a person of Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves “Ahmadis” or by any other name), or a Bahai and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes”.
Article 295 and 295-A
HRCP : http://www.hrcp-web.org/