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HRCP calls for urgent attention to address pressing human rights challenges

Lahore:  The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called for urgent attention to address pressing human rights challenges across the country. The Commission in particular drew attention towards rising violence and intolerance against religious and sectarian minorities, absence of effective writ of the state over expanding areas, poor governance, a failure to curb enforced disappearance to the point where the numbers from Sindh now match those in Balochistan, dead bodies of missing persons being discovered, targeting of journalists and human rights defenders and considerable internal displacement.

In a statement at the conclusion of the Commission’s annual general body meeting on Sunday, HRCP said: “The Commission can appreciate that the authorities have a long list of violations to contend with, but it is the one-dimensional, stereotyped and merely reactive response to these violations that have made the lot of the people much worse than it would have been otherwise.

Intolerance continues unchecked as evidenced by growing incidents of violence against citizens who are not deemed to share the majority faith. The anxieties of Pakistan’s religious and sectarian minorities are beyond description. Mob violence in the name of religion has gained currency. HRCP demands that early warnings must be taken seriously and followed up by meaningful action. The Joseph Colony attack on the Christian community in Lahore, which was more than enough to shame the nation, already seems to have been forgotten. Nothing has been done to inspire confidence that the butchering of Hazara Shias in Balochistan as well as Shias in Gilgit Baltistan would stop. Ahmadis continue to be murdered in targeted attacks on account of their belief and the authorities’ sympathies certainly do not seem to be with the victims or their families. Ahmadis also remain the only group on a separate voters’ lists. Attacks on places of worship of minority religious and sectarian groups have become commonplace. Reports have been coming in from across the country of institutions being set up in the name of educational facilities where hate preach is taught. Distribution of weapons to certain sectarian groups has also been reported. More than ever, arbitrary and selective interpretations of religion and whims of cold-blooded killers are the measure of life and death in Pakistan. The people believe that the situation would not have been quite so precarious if at least some elements within the state machinery had not actively supported the trouble makers, or if the state as a whole had not acquiesced by its inaction. There is a dire need to introduce and implement without any further delay a law on incitement to violence on the basis of religion.

The lawlessness is now the norm in many parts of the country including FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. It is difficult to imagine how the state of affairs could be any worse if there were no government in place in Karachi. The average number of those killed on a normal day is at least a dozen. Dead bodies in gunny bags have been found in Peshawar in the last few months. Large groups of militants have launched attacks against government installations in places such as Peshawar and Bannu.

The conflict-related displacement goes on with minimal support for the displaced and almost no efforts to address the root causes of displacement. Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency has been under curfew for over a year. The plight of the people there is largely ignored by all concerned. Nearly a million people are internally displaced from FATA today on account of armed conflict.

As the judiciary indulges in all affairs of the state, it is perhaps its own domain that is the most neglected and lagging. The Supreme Court is no nearer to deciding petitions against enforced disappearance that it had first started hearing in 2007. The number of persons going missing in Sindh in 2012 rivals those in Balochistan now. The dead bodies of 72 people who were reported to have gone missing in Balochistan were found in deserted places in 2012.

The failure to implement international human rights treaties or even domestic law is made worse by a renewed appetite for introducing laws that undermine human rights.

The economic concerns of the people remain just that, the concerns of the people. It is an understatement to say that they have not been the priority of anyone in power.

The perils for those working for promoting and defending human rights have risen perceptibly. Many journalists and human rights defenders have been murdered in targeted attacks. Many others have faced threats and intimidation. In 2012 again, Pakistan was one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Fourteen journalists were killed across the country. The threats to journalists were perhaps the most grave in Khuzdar in Balochistan, where relatives of journalists were also killed in targeted attacks. The killers enjoyed complete immunity. The murder of journalist Wali Babar in Karachi remained a typical case of failure to bring the killers to court. Six witnesses in the case have been murdered. As things stand today, every high-profile journalist in Pakistan is under threat, as is every high-profile Shia for that matter. Political activists and politicians are being targeted as they campaign for elections in a very insecure environment. Targeting of political gatherings has become a common occurrence. How will the people have the confidence to come out and vote in this atmosphere of fear and violence is a critical question.

The stubborn refusal to benefit from the energies of women and members of minority communities has not at all helped in resolving these issues.

The HRCP AGM expressed grave concern at reports surfacing yet again of concerted moves to prevent women from contesting or voting in the 2013 general elections, e.g. in Torghar, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Mianwali and other locations. HRCP urged the Election Commission to publicly condemn such illegal and unconstitutional acts and take affective measures to stop and prevent them; to declare null and void the results of any constituency which show disproportionately low or no votes cast by women; and to announce this decision well in advance of election day. HRCP also urges all political parties, their supporters and the religious clergy to immediately condemn, reject and dissociate themselves from all such undemocratic moves to disenfranchise women voters or contestants.

This is a dangerous mix in an explosive situation. HRCP is aware of the limited role of the caretaker governments at the centre and in the provinces, and it hopes that they will function within their mandate, but they must protect the life, liberty and security of the people.

It is imperative that a new government that reflects the genuine will of the people takes over at the earliest to deal with these challenges. It is vital that the change comes through the ballot and not through the gun or fatwas by custodians of morality. HRCP also calls upon the political parties to pay attention to these issues in their manifestos, election campaigns and beyond. The media and civil society find themselves cornered again. Despite the threats, they must continue to train the spotlight on all these violations and hope that they find support from those who the people elect to extricate them out of this mess.”

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