Pakistan turning into a violent, undemocratic society: HRCP

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 5, 2013.

Islamabad – Pakistan is dangerously teetering on the brink of becoming a violent, undemocratic society, according to the 2012 annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The HRCP launched its “State of the Human Rights in 2012” report in Islamabad on Thursday.

“Societies where the political elite severs its ties with the individual cease to function in a democratic manner and people resort to violence in a bid to be heard,” the report stated in its chapter on democratic development. “Pakistan is on the verge of becoming just such a society.”

The HRCP report provides an overview of the human rights situation in Pakistan through six main categories: rule of law, fundamental freedoms, democratic development, rights of the disadvantaged and social and economic rights.

The categories are further subdivided into 18 different headings.

Under the heading of “political participation”, the report noted that politically motivated violence was rampant in the country in 2012.

“The free exercise of democratic rights is curtailed by acts of violence,” the report stated.

According to the report, Bashir Bilour’s assassination was the most prominent case of a political worker being targeted in 2012. Moreover, violence in Karachi alone led to deaths of around 356 political activists.

But there were some positive trends in 2012, as well.

“There were no human rights direct violations as a policy by the government,” Asma Jahangir, human rights lawyer and activist, told the Express Tribune at the report launch ceremony.

“I believe that the new government, if and when it comes (in to power), will address the rest of the human rights issues,” Jahangir added.

The past year was also significant because it was the last year before the 2013 general elections.

The Chief Election Commissioner registered 84 million voters — with females making up for 43 per cent of the voters — in 2012, according to the HRCP report.

But the ECP failed to uphold some promises such as cancelling the voting results of constituencies where less than 10 per cent of women voted.

“The ECP was fighting for its own survival in 2012,” said IA Rehman, veteran intellectual and general secretary of the HRCP. “It won, and now it has started to fight for us.”

Rehman said the ECP only became fully active in 2013 and so it remains to be seen if it succeeds in ensuring the political participation of the masses.

Jahangir said the people and the media can help put human rights on the elections agenda.

“It depends on each section (of the population),” she said. “The women are already making a charter of demands; the youth should have its own charter.”

She said there are some other broader human rights issues that need to be supported by all segments of society.

“There are some cross cutting issues like right of not to be tortured and redress for those who have been wronged,” Jahangir said. “The most important thing is to end impunity in this country.”

The HRCP report emphasized the political participation of women and minorities by recommending that political parties should field more election candidates from among women and minorities.

Kamran Arif, co-chairperson of the HRCP, said elections have traditionally featured a give and take over municipal issues between voters and politicians. But Arif said the references to human rights still only appear vaguely in election campaigns.

“The general human rights that people face daily are not yet, at the moment, fully on the debate agenda,” he said. “We hope in the future there would be more discussions on particular human rights violations so that political parties start talking about it.”

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