Pakistan’s recent induction as a member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) is both ironic and tragic. Pakistan is a country where the state openly and brazenly use brutal methods of repression against its own people for demanding their rights…reports Rifan Ahmed Khan
Pakistan is a country which has been persistently been labelled as the most dangerous place on earth for journalists and human rights activists. It is a country where minorities live like slaves and women victim of indiscriminate policies of subjugation. It is a country which should have been sanctioned for its flagrant violation of human rights and not allowed to sit on judgement over human rights violations of other member states.
Recent country reports submitted by UN teams to the UNHCR speak volumes of Pakistan’s abysmal record of protecting human rights. The most recent has been the report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights submitted in August this year. Of the several points of concern the report has raised, the following are more grave and call for attention.
First concerns the “ high incidence of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings allegedly perpetrated by the police and military and security forces“. The report pointed out that enforced disappearances are not considered a criminal act which gives the security agencies a free hand to terrorise the people. A high number of persons remain in illegal detention because law –the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation, 2011—gives powers to the army to detain any person without any warrant for an indefinite period and in secret prisons run by the army.
The report expressed concern over media reports that “the families of disappeared persons are subjected to threats and intimidation to discourage them from filing cases of enforced disappearance“.
These observations have to be read with an earlier report (June 2017) submitted by the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It raises red flags over rampant torture and illegal detention of human rights activists, journalists and others by security agencies. The report highlighted the committee’s deep concerns at reports that “ members of the State party’s military forces, intelligence forces, such as the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and paramilitary forces, such as the Frontier Corps and the Pakistan Rangers, have been implicated in a significant number of cases of extrajudicial executions involving torture and enforced disappearances.“ The report, quite appropriately, pointed out that the laws provided “retroactive immunity for acts of torture committed by members of the military and paramilitary forces“.
Another important area of concern raised by the committee is about the freedom of faith. In its report, it raised serious concerns about the blasphemy laws and the provisions therein which carry severe punishment including death penalty. The report said there were “ very high number of blasphemy cases based on false accusations and by violence against those accused of blasphemy“ . The report mentioned “ repeated reports that judges who hear blasphemy cases are frequently harassed and subjected to intimidation and threats“. The report raised concerns about the continued reports of hate speech and hate crimes against minorities, religious biases in school texts and the threats to their places of worship. The committee pointed out that defamation was a criminal offence and these laws were used rampantly against journalists and writers who express dissenting views. The journalists and writers, especially those using the social media to highlight injustices are subject to repressive actions by the state. The committee said there were “ repeated reports of disappearance, killing and intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers by State and non-State actors and the low rate of prosecution and conviction of perpetrators“.
The committee against torture also pointed out similar reprisals against dissenting voices. In its June report, the committee said human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists and their family members, to silence them, were subjected to physical attacks and illegal detentions. The report cited the recent cases of human rights defenders WaqasGoraya, Aasim Saeed, Salman Haider and Ahmad Raza Naseer, who were allegedly abducted by State agents in January 2017, and journalist ZeenatShahzadi, who was allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance in August 2015.
An equally important area of concern flagged by the UN committees was the violence against women and the so-called “honour killings“. The committees reported that there was a high level of violence against women in the country and this violence takes the form of murder, rape, acid crimes, kidnappings, domestic violence and honour killings. The conviction rates for such crimes was extremely low and often such cases are adjudicated by parallel justice systems like Jirga or panchayat where, most often, women are subjected to further humiliation and punishment. Women complainants in many cases have been punished with stoning, and even death while perpetrators have been let off leniently.
The August report underlined the fact despite assurances by the government, the “so-called honour killings continue to occur and that the qisas (equal retaliation) and diyat (financial compensation) laws are reportedly applied to some of these cases“. The report expressed concern “by the very low level of reporting of violence against women, including domestic violence; the lack of prompt and effective investigation of such cases; the low level of prosecution and conviction of perpetrators; and the insufficient level of assistance for victims.“
These areas of serious concern alone makes the selection of Pakistan as a member of the UNHRC a mockery and gross injustice, and insult, to thousands of people in Pakistan who continue to suffer at the hands of the state which has been, instead of being censured, `honoured` by the international watch body.