Rights Day, marked across the world on December 10, is a good occasion to take
stock of the human rights situation in Pakistan, particularly during the last
one year, and to assess the direction taken by the state and society. The score
card is dismal.
National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), which is an independent body set up
under an act of the parliament and has been in place for almost five years, is
now dysfunctional as the term of its chairman and members expired over six
were initially advertised but it appears that the government had second
thoughts when it found that the former chairman of the commission, a relatively
independent and assertive former chief justice, was also among the candidates.
The advertisement was withdrawn and it was stated that fresh applications will
be invited again on the basis of another advertisement to be approved by the
federal cabinet. When re-advertised, a new condition was inserted in the
qualifications required. Anyone above the age of 65 was declared ineligible – a
condition that has not been provided in the act of the parliament itself. The
parliament, in its wisdom, had not placed any limitation of age on the grounds
that such limitation might deprive suitable persons from being selected. As
expected, this executive transgression was promptly challenged in courts and
the process of selection has come to a halt. Today, the commission is
practically dysfunctional while the bureaucracy claims it is not responsible.
National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW) has also become dysfunctional
upon the retirement recently of its chairperson and members. No urgency has
been shown to fill the vacuum. Already incapacitated by administrative and
financial constraints, the NCSW is also now totally non-existent. There is no
statutory body to address issues in rights violations of women.
Commission for Protection of the Child has not been formed despite legislation
made some two years ago and commitments made long ago before the UN. Fourth,
the Supreme Court in June 2014 ordered the formation of a commission for the
protection of non-Muslim minorities but it has also not been set up. Fifth,
students also have been at the receiving end as terrorism charges were slammed
against activists of the recent Students Solidarity March.
despite promises to bring legislation within a month to criminalise enforced
disappearances, no law has been made. Complaints of citizens disappearing
mysteriously in Balochistan, former tribal areas and other parts of the country
not only continue to pour in but have also increased.
women are also now victims of enforced disappearances. Four women in Awaran
were recently abducted and disappeared. It was only after widespread protests
that they were brought into the open and sent to jail. BNP President Sardar
Akhtar Mengal protested and threatened to quit the coalition. Mercifully, on
Monday, they were released and a declaration made that no evidence had been
found against them. The question why and who abducted them in the first place
will perhaps never be answered. At the time of the last budget, dozens of
missing persons were recovered after Akhtar Mengal threatened to withdraw from
the coalition. No charges were brought against them.
Commission on Enforced Disappearances claims that it has recovered over 2,000
missing persons during the past few years. That may be true. However, what the
commission has failed to answer why has it failed to investigate who the
offenders were and why it failed to prosecute them, even though the law under
which the commission was formed requires it do so. Are the kidnappers too
powerful for the commission or invisible?
Over a year
ago, the chairman of the commission disclosed before the Senate Committee that
153 army personnel were found involved in abducting people. The media, which in
the words of Imran Khan is “freer than the UK media,” did not report this. Till
today no one knows what, if any, action has been taken against those identified
by the commission as involved in the crime. When asked in the meeting on August
28, 2018, the chairman of the commission evaded replies.
there has also been no progress in legislation on preventing torture and
custodial deaths despite the fact that Pakistan is a signatory of conventions
against torture and the government’s promises to legislate on this issue.
Custodial deaths continue with impunity – the latest being in Rawalpindi on the
eve of International Human Rights Day.
internment centres were set up in tribal areas during the fight against
militancy to keep hard core militants detained pending their trial. These
centres have virtually turned into Guantanamo Bay prisons of Pakistan. No
information is available about the people kept incommunicado in these centres
without access to their families and lawyers. Members of the Senate Human
Rights Committee who wanted to visit these centres were not allowed and
questions about the status of internees not answered.
Peshawar High Court recently declared these centres illegal, the Khyber
Pakhtunkhw government responded by issuing an ordinance to set up such centres
across the province. During the last hearing in the Supreme Court, the law
officer defending the internment centres startled many by stating that most
detainees did not have identity cards and were “enemy aliens.” However, Judge
Qazi Isa observed that “alien” refers to those who are not citizens of
Pakistan. As the matter is before the court, no further comments are warranted.
rights are predicated on respecting the rights of others. Is the general apathy
towards human rights rooted in the observation that institutions themselves
also do not respect each other’s constitutional rights and domains? Over time,
this tendency creates a society’s template and becomes its DNA that tolerates
trampling of each other’s rights. Respecting the trichotomy of powers as laid
down in the constitution is critical.
that haunts today is whether the constitution has been interpreted in such a
way that the powers of only one institution, namely the Supreme Court, has been
enhanced instead of expanding the independence and powers of all institutions
of democracy. I do not know, I really do not want to know!
Babar is a former senator
Headline: Human Rights Day: Where is Pakistan headed?
Source: The Friday Times