Monday, April 9, 2018
HRCP said it was appalled by the recent Islamabad High Court ruling that proposes making a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants.
Given the vicissitudes of Pakistan’s political situation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) demands that free and fair elections be held as scheduled this year. In a statement issued following its 32nd Annual General Meeting, HRCP has reiterated the importance of ensuring an even playing field for all-without interference from any state agency.
“There must be special efforts to ensure that both women and religious minorities are able to participate in, and contest, the elections freely and without fear, pressure or intimidation. In this context, mobile polling stations could be a way of ensuring that people who might otherwise be unable to vote, are able to exercise this fundamental right,” the organization added.
In a press statement, HRCP said it was perturbed at suggestions for rolling back the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award of 2009. Any move in this direction, it said, would threaten the integrity of the federation: the state needed to move toward greater federation, and not backward.
The fact that enforced disappearances have continued unabated in the last year is cause for serious concern. HRCP has said that “the protracted delay by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in establishing the whereabouts of missing persons is unacceptable” and demands that Pakistan sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. “The impunity with which people have been whisked away, especially forthright civil society activists such as Raza Mahmood Khan, needs to be curbed immediately,” it added. In this context, HRCP proposes that the recommendations of the 2010 Judicial Commission for Missing Persons be implemented.
The rise in the number of extrajudicial killings, particularly in Sindh, said HRCP, was a stark reminder that Naqeebullah Mehsud was just one case of many: it was imperative that the government take strict notice of such impunity.
HRCP has reiterated its concern at the growing exclusion of civil society from affairs of the state. “The shrinking space for progressive thought in Pakistan is especially disconcerting. The fact that NOCs are apparently in the control of the security agencies and that donor money is not going to the areas where it is most needed-such as ‘no-go’ areas in Balochistan and FATA-means that human rights are increasingly under strain,” added the organization.
Referring to the “mainstreaming of extremist parties-notoriously, the Tehrik Labaik Ya Rasool Allah”, HRCP has underlined the lack of transparency in the country’s adherence to UN requirements of the ban on militant and terrorist organizations. “The space that has opened up for religious and militant organizations to operate with impunity,” it added, “is reflected in the hero’s welcome that awaited the 26 people acquitted by the courts in the case of Mashal Khan’s mob lynching.”
“The surge in violence against women and children,” HRCP has said, “is a sobering reminder that the periodic uproar against individual cases-such as the unspeakable case of six-year-old Zainab in Kasur-is simply not enough to substantially curb this trend.” The organization demands that the right of vulnerable groups to security of life and person be reinforced at every level of society and government.
HRCP has reiterated its support for the rights of workers and peasants across Pakistan, saying that “the case of the recent fatalities in the coal-mining sector are a grim reminder that the country’s labour protection laws and mechanisms fail to meet the standards of decent work recommended by the International Labour Organization. This, coupled with the rising cost of living, means that workers simply continue to eke out an existence without any prospect of betterment.”
Pointing to the “alarming spike in the suicide rate, especially among young women in Gilgit-Baltistan,” HRCP said there was clearly a disconnect between young people’s aspirations and what the state and society were willing to offer them in terms of opportunities to lead secure, fulfilling lives.
HRCP said it was appalled by the recent Islamabad High Court ruling that proposes making a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants, including for the armed forces, judiciary and the civil services. This ruling has “serious repercussions for all religious minorities, not least the Ahmadiyya community. Such requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities.”
If the government continues its apologist policy toward religious extremism, the organization continued, “Pakistan cannot expect to protect its religious minorities. The recent attack on a church in Quetta, the blasphemy charges leveled against Patras Masih in Lahore, the killing of two Hindu brothers in Mithi, and random killings of Hazara and Ahmadiyya community members reflect the latitude still given to religious extremists. The weaponization of religion, whether by state institutions, non-state actors or political parties, must cease.”
Criticizing the increasing trend of judicial activism, HRCP said that this tended to impinge on people’s fundamental rights and the country’s fragile democracy. “Rather than relying on vague interpretations of morality, the superior judiciary should decide cases of public importance based on established constitutional and legal principles. The excessive number of suo moto cases in the last year have in no way served to strengthen democracy,” added the organization.
Referring to Gilgit-Baltistan as being trapped “in limbo”, HRCP has said that,”so long as it is not brought into the federation of Pakistan, its citizens will not enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed to all other citizens of the country. It is imperative that every citizen of Gilgit-Baltistan enjoy the same freedoms that the Constitution accords to Pakistani citizens.”
Pointing to the recent case of Geo TV having inexplicably been taken off air, the continual harassment of journalists, the closure of the Quetta Press Club and restrictions on circulations of newspapers in the city, HRCP has underscored the fact that freedom of expression in Pakistan remains under attack.
The tendency to keep development projects under foreign purview, said HRCP, “is not acceptable and is clearly causing unease among local residents. All development projects-including those undertaken as part of CPEC-must be transparent, and planned and executed so as not to violate any human right. The lack of transparency that surrounds the recent Chinese initiatives in Gwadar, for instance, is cause for concern. Asking these questions, moreover, is very much in the public interest and must not be deemed ‘anti-state’ or ‘anti-Pakistan’.”
The organization welcomed the Pashtun Tahafuz movement “in the spirit that all people have a right to express their grievances peacefully. The legitimate concerns underlying the movement reflect a breakdown in the relationship between the state and the people. We urge the government to listen to these concerns and to refrain from interfering in the Pashtuns’ right of association as well as that of others.”
HRCP said it deplored the state’s lack of action on the plight of Pakistanis in foreign prisons, especially in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and India. The state, it said, must provide them with legal aid and other relief.
The fate of students from hundreds of religious seminaries across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is up in the air as the provincial government remains confused on charting a policy to formally register these educational institutions. At the moment, seminaries are neither registered with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Industrial Department nor with the provincial Elementary and Secondary Education Department (K-PESED).
According to the K-P Home and Tribal Affairs Department, there are as many as 3,792 seminaries in the province. Of these, 2,654 are registered and 1,138 are unregistered.
Around 100 are inactive while 238 are listed in category ‘B’, while 3,502 are in category ‘C’. Moreover, of the seminaries under surveillance, as many as 76 seminaries are listed in category ‘A’, 196 in category ‘B’ and 3,034 are in category ‘C’.
In January this year, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) provincial government had decided that the K-PESED will monitor and regulate seminaries in the province. But three months on, and the department has yet to decide on the future of seminars and how to deal with them.
According to an official, who did not wish to be named, said that as per a decision taken in a meeting of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) in Islamabad, all boards of intermediate and secondary education would now register madrassas within their respective jurisdictions. Moreover, since a Private School Regularity Authority (PSRA) now operates in K-P, these seminaries will also be dealt with by the PSRA.
The official said that so far the PSRA has yet to become fully functional, hence some of its processes are still being handled by the industries department in the province.
As soon as the PSRA starts working properly, they will also register seminaries, the official said.
Last year, the K-P government had directed the Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) across the province to start registering seminaries. However, the administration at a majority of seminaries expressed their reservation over the move and refused to fill out the registration forms.
No official directions However, officials responsible for registering the seminaries have suggested that the government, despite okaying the move, is hesitant to enforce it. PSRA Deputy Director Noor Alam Khan told The Express Tribune that it was the provincial government which decided in a meeting to put seminars under the PSRA.
However, the authority has yet to receive any formal directives from the government to start work on it.
Noor said that if the provincial government officially asks them to register seminaries across the province, they will definitely deal with them.
PSRA Managing Director Zafar Ali Shah said that they have completed 80 per cent of their groundwork and that the authority will soon start functioning fully.
Haqqania seminary seeks university status
He echoed Noor’s sentiments that in the event they receive a formal order from the government assigning them the responsibility of registering seminaries in the province, they will do so. Criticism Meanwhile, an official of the largest federation of Islamic seminaries in the country slammed the provincial government for not taking them into confidence regarding registration of seminaries.
“We appreciate the government’s efforts to put the seminaries under the education department but we have not agreed to any development without consultation,” said Mufti Sirajul Hassan, the media incharge of the Wafaqul Madaris Al Arabia K-P chapter. He added that he Wafaqul Madaris Al Arabia oversees more than 5,000 seminars across the province where around 700,000 students are enrolled. Mufti Hassan said that first, the BISE had sent a form to all seminaries, asking them to register with the boards. However, the Wafaqul Madaris had raised several reservations over the move and had refused to fill the forms.
He demanded that the government take the issue of registering seminaries seriously and to design a formal mechanism for registering them after due consultation with all seminaries.
There is a dire need for an independent tribunal to investigate enforced disappearance cases at the very earliest.
According to the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, ‘Any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity’. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, hundreds of families continue to wait for answers about their loved ones who have vanished without a trace. Estimates about the total number of such cases vary widely, but even the conservative approximations are much too high. According to Punhal Sario, a rights activist who recently organised a long march from Hyderabad to Karachi and a hunger strike camp for the recovery of missing activists in Sindh, said that the state had failed to protect the rights of its citizens when it comes to enforced disappearance. He further stated that ‘There is no difference in terms of the victimization of political activists, whether that is in Balochistan, Sindh or in any other part of the country.’
The history of enforced disappearances in Pakistan, as noted by senior human rights advocate IA Rehman, dates back to 1985. The public sphere discourse regarding missing persons is shrouded in layers of legal complexities, biased views on national security, and widely circulated misinformation about the backgrounds of the abducted persons. On the family’s part, there is a constant fear of untoward consequences for the missing persons, confusion regarding the legal course of action and an on-and-off glimmer of hope over the missing person’s return someday.
The public sphere discourse regarding missing persons is shrouded in layers of legal complexities, biased views on national security, and widely circulated misinformation about the backgrounds of the abducted persons
After the forced departure of their loved ones, the family’s life is often characterized by life’s daily struggle to arrange resources in order to meet household expenses, psychological trauma in the aftermath of the disappearance. This also includes dealing with the negative social attitudes mainly arising out of media propaganda against the missing person. Not only this, but another everyday reality are phone calls from ‘unknown’ numbers, forbidding the family to participate in public activities to campaign for the release of the abducted victim.
There were 1,532 pending cases with the Commission of Inquiries on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) in the beginning of 2018 and 116 more cases were registered in February 2018 alone. Given this tragic discourse that has been going on for years now, it has become essentially crucial for the Government of Pakistan to act at their very earliest by taking effective and robust measures against this illegal and malicious practice. The increasing number of cases reported to CIED clearly demonstrates that such incidences are now occurring nationwide. Sindhi political activists have been targeted in particular. And sadly the ones who are attempting to raise their voice are themselves becoming victims at an alarming rate since the past few months.
These tragedies continued even though the Government accepted recommendations which were made by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in its Universal Periodic Review to specifically criminalise enforced disappearances. However, the action bore little fruit since no effective implementation or concrete steps were taken to make disappearances in Pakistan an autonomous crime under criminal law.
Hence, now as the agony of this current scenario across the country becomes unbearable, responsibility lies in the hands of the Prime Minister (PM) and the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of its citizens is not compromised at any cost. These respectable authorities should urgently introduce preventive measures across the nation, promising successful outcomes with full force.
It goes without saying that the relevant state intelligence agencies must also effectively play their parts as well and their help should be sought without further delay. There are a number of important proposals that require our utmost attention at the moment. First and foremost, the government should ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as soon as possible. Mere acknowledgement or recognition of this convention is not enough. Secondly, they should introduce a policy that encourages payment of compensation for the families of missing persons who continue to suffer in silence for years without any support.
Thirdly, Members of law enforcement and intelligent agencies should be properly trained with particular focus on cases dealing with enforced disappearances across the country. Their work should be properly monitored under the supervision of accountable civil authorities without any recklessness. Fourthly, there is a dire need for an independent tribunal to investigate enforced disappearance cases at the very earliest. Such tribunals should be given the power and authority to take immediate action against any state official that is found to be engaged in this illegal practice.
Moreover they should immediately revisit their decision of leaving the issue of disappearance to merely a commission of inquiry alone that consists of mere resources and little authority. For a successful outcome to be achieved, it should either be turned into a judicial tribunal that has adequate and sufficient powers or a new commission should be established with proper facilities and adequate training.
That said, the human rights defenders in the region should be assisted and supported using all possible means to address the common challenges and problems they encounter working on enforced disappearances. The matter should be diligently addressed head on. Otherwise, this illegal practice will continue to deteriorate the nation’s image for not dealing with disappearances with the seriousness the issue has deserved all along, not to mention the plight of the disappeared individuals and their families.
Enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity and a grave and flagrant violation of multiple human rights guarantees, including the right to recognition as a person before the law, the right to liberty and security of the person and the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The relevant authorities should now realise that enforced disappearances in the country are completely impermissible in all circumstances and no threat, no matter how serious, can justify this illegal practice.
#PashtunLivesMatter #PashtunLongMarch2Peshawer - 'Stop This Cruelty': Pakistan's Pashtuns Want Answers About Missing Loved Ones
By Frud Bezhan & Daud Khattak
Thousands of protesters clapped frantically and others wept as Basro Bibi, draped in a brown burqa and flanked by her young children, made an emotional plea to authorities to release her missing husband.
"My husband was picked up by the military four years ago," cried Bibi from the stage, addressing the tens of thousands of Pakistan's Pashtun minority who gathered in the northwestern city of Peshawar on April 8 to demand an end to alleged forced disappearances and harassment by authorities.
"We don't know why he was taken or where he is," added Bibi, a mother of five who lives in the Khyber tribal agency, part of the Pashtun-dominated Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan. "I urge the authorities to stop this cruelty."
Many Pashtuns claim they have been the targets of the all-powerful Pakistani Army and its notorious intelligence services, which have an oversized role in the South Asian country.
The impoverished, long-neglected, and largely lawless tribal areas became a front line in the battle against extremist groups after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when Al-Qaeda took refuge in the region. The area has been the scene of deadly Pakistani army operations, U.S. drone attacks, and militant attacks that have uprooted millions of people and left thousands dead.
Pashtuns make up the majority of recruits and members of Pakistani-based militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, and the Pakistani Taliban. The former extremist outfits have carried out deadly attacks against Afghan and international forces in neighboring Afghanistan, while the latter has carried out sectarian attacks against religious minorities and waged an insurgency against Pakistani government troops.
Civilians in Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan have borne the brunt of the violence and protesters have alleged extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, racial profiling, and harassment by law enforcement.
"My brothers were picked up by the security forces more than two years ago," said Samia, a middle-aged woman holding a placard emblazoned with images of her two missing siblings.
"We have received the body of one of the brothers from authorities without any explanation," added Samia, whose brothers disappeared in the Swat Valley, a picturesque region in northwest Pakistan that was the scene of deadly army operations and a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. "My other brother is still missing. They have young wives and children at home. We have nobody to support the family."
Samia was among thousands of women, children, and men holding up photos of their missing family members. Some held placards, while others grasped the national ID cards of the missing.
Pakistan has an estimated 40 million Pashtuns who make up roughly 20 percent of the country's population of 200 million. Pashtuns are concentrated in an arc along Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan in FATA and the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Pashtuns in FATA live under colonial-era laws that punish an entire tribe for the crime of an individual, jail residents for up to three years without cause, and forcibly relocate people and have their property searched and seized.
"Other children are going to schools," said a 10-year-old girl from Bajaur, part of FATA, who did not give her name. "But I lost my education because my family couldn't afford to send me to school after my father disappeared."
Wiping the tears from her face with her black head scarf, she said she had to leave school when she was in the fifth grade.
The protest in Peshawar was organized by the Pashtun Protection Movement, a new protest movement advocating for the rights of the Pashtun community.
Helmed by Manzoor Pashteen, a 27-year-old activist, the movement made national headlines when he led thousands of people from the tribal areas and northwest Pakistan to the capital, Islamabad, in February. The rally, ignited by the killing of a young Pashtun shopkeeper in an allegedly staged gun battle with police in the port city of Karachi, exposed long-held grievances among Pashtuns.
Since then, rallies have been held across the tribal areas, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and neighboring Balochistan Province, attracting tens of thousands of people.
The movement has given the relatives of missing persons hope that they can be found and released.
Back on the stage in Peshawar, Bibi was ending her teary address.
"I'm compelled to speak out even though I know it's not usual for a woman to do so," said Bibi, referring to the conservative Pashtun community in which women play a limited role in public life.
"The authorities must realize that every man they forcibly disappear has a family," said Bibi, who told the audience that she has had to beg on the streets to eke out a meager living.
"Who will provide for my family? Who will send his children to school?" she said as she consoled her children on the stage.
#PashtunTahaffuzMovement - Bilawal Bhutto expressed disappointment with the media for not giving coverage to the #PashtunLongMarch
Bilawal also expressed his disappointment with the media for not giving coverage to the Pashtun Long March that was held on Sunday.
He said that the protest was held peacefully with the people raising an issue and that the media should engage and not ignore it, even if they did not entirely agree with it.
He said that the protest was held peacefully with the people raising an issue and that the media should engage and not ignore it, even if they did not entirely agree with it.