The annual report for 2018 launched by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad on Monday does not paint a pleasant picture of human rights protection in the country. In the first place, the detailed report points out that questions pertaining to human rights and the condition of people across the country were not a part of the 2018 election campaign and were hardly mentioned during the process. This alone indicates how political parties look at these matters. The report, as it has done in previous years, notes that Pakistan has struggled to safeguard the rights of marginalised communities. Forced conversions, the rising price of medicines and the continued scourge of crimes against women and children have also been noted, as have issues related to free expression, and malnutrition, with 638 children reported to have died in Thar in 2018 due to food insufficiency.
The report has also highlighted some positive features, including the participation of transgender persons in elections and the entry of a Dalit Hindu woman into the Senate of Pakistan. It is obvious, however, that we need more such good omens if the overall situation of people is to change. Pakistan for example is still failing to spend at least six percent of its budget on healthcare, as recommended by the World Health Organization. The country has also not complied with other international conventions it has ratified. Lack of implementation is in fact a key reason why incidents concerning the gross abuse of basic rights continue to be reported month after month and year after year. The lack of redress available to people is also a concern, given we have 1.9 million cases still pending in over 250 courts at all tiers in the country. Some of these cases have remained pending for a decade or more. Of the 4688 prisoners on death row, many have been held there for years with the rate of conviction far exceeding that of executions. Even though horrifying cases such as the rape and murder of seven-year old Zainab at the start of 2018 shocked people everywhere in the country, the response has been limited over a longer period of time. Problems with the investigation of cases, the prevention of abuse and the administration of justice continue to pour in. Curbs on media freedom also prevented people from accessing information particularly in the run-up to the 2018 elections. The main take-away from the report is that there is a need for human rights to be brought into the mainstream of political discourse and discussion in the country. Only once this happens can there be any hope that people will receive from the state of Pakistan the security and safety they need so as to live life without fear and with their guarantee that their most basic needs will be taken care of.