Pakistani state has failed its citizens

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 25, 2014.

Islamabad – The Pakistani state has failed to devise a broad and all-inclusive strategy to tackle the country’s worsening situation of human rights, which did not show any significant improvement in 2013, according to representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The HRCP, which is one of Pakistan’s oldest and most prominent human rights NGOs, launched its “State of Human Rights in 2013” report at a local hotel on Thursday.

The report, which is published annually, noted some positives developments in Pakistan during 2013, such as the general elections. But it also highlighted an overwhelming amount of challenges biting at the safety and personal freedoms of Pakistani citizens.

From brutal attacks on Pakistani non-Muslims to the sectarian violence that claimed 687 lives in 2013 and the 869 women who were killed in the name of honour across Pakistan, the statistics in HRCP’s report point towards the discomforting reality that the state has not done enough to confront and resolve human rights crises.

“…We do not find any indication of a comprehensive approach (in Pakistan) to the problems of human rights,” HRCP Secretary-General IA Rehman said.

Rehman said successive governments have moved from a case to case basis to deal with human rights violations, ignoring an overall approach to set an overall policy. He said human rights do not seem to be a priority for the governments.

“The National Human Rights Commission Act was passed in 2012. The commission has still not been formed,” Rehman told The Express Tribune. “If it had been a priority, the commission would have been formed by now.”

He said this sort of indifferent response pushes neglected issues such as poverty and the welfare of rural populations to become more and more aggravated.

“A good government is one that acts before a crisis and a bad government is one that only wakes up when it gets smacked on the head,” Rehman said.

The 2013 report is broadly divided into six sections — rule of law, enforcement of law, fundamental freedoms, democratic development, rights of the disadvantaged and social and economic rights — and also provides recommendations for the human rights issues discussed in each sub-section.

Where the report mentioned the participation of women candidates and voters increased in 2013, it also noted that “women’s share in country’s legislatures fell to 19.5 per cent in 2013 from 19.9 per cent in 2008.”

“Women’s role in politics has regressed… it is a moment of worry for all of us,” said Nasreen Azhar, a senior HRCP member and human rights activist.

HRCP C0-chairperson Kamran Arif said the rights of religious minorities and Muslim minority sects also suffered during 2013.

The report mentioned the attack on a Christian church in Peshawar, the Joseph colony massacre, the violence against Shia Hazaras in Balochistan as well as seven Ahmadis who were targeted and killed during 2013.

The HRCP report called for an end to hate campaigns against religious and sectarian minority groups and demanded reforms in the blasphemy law to prevent its abuse.

It also stated that 3,218 people were killed in violence in Karachi, 199 were killed in 31 drone strikes and more than 90 cases of enforced disappearance were reported around the year.

Violence even crept into the health sector as 20 polio vaccinators and nine policemen protecting polio vaccination teams were murdered in 2013.

Najam U Din, the report’s editor, said the statistics for the report were compiled from media monitoring of 18 English and Urdu Pakistani newspapers and field reports from HRCP district monitors.

Din said the process of compiling the report pushed the limits of his optimism.

“The depressing thing is that one could not see any discernible effort to undo these trends or a holistic approach to challenge these things,” he said.

Rehman, who also said civil society organisations have apprehensions that the state’s only concession in the peace talks with militants will be at the cost of women and minorities, said it the state must provide relief for the masses.

“We think that it is time that the state re-orientates itself to the cause of the people’s welfare,” Rehman said. “Not only [should it] allocate resources but also display the necessary will and need to meet the basic demands of civilized existence.”

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