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In Karachi, LEAs have become both judge and executioner: HRW

By Ebad Ahmed
February 23, 2016

HRW South Asia director says if Karachi crackdown remains unchecked, it might fuel violence


The Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, has issued a 659-page report, documenting the human rights record of over 90 countries. Among them, the report points to crackdowns in Russia and China, the deployment of the Rapid Action Battalion in Bangladesh and the human rights abuses under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in India.

In its Pakistan section, it stated, “Rangers, a paramilitary force, were given complete control over law enforcement in the city of Karachi, where there were reports of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.”

The report, released in Istanbul, further read, “The security forces are engaged in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to counter political unrest in the province of Balochistan and in the port city of Karachi in the Sindh province.”

In light of these observations on the Karachi operation, The News coordinated an email interview with the HRW South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly.

She said the HRW believed that there were serious security challenges in Karachi, and the State had the responsibility to ensure public order.

However, she added, it appeared that the security forces, unwilling to do the hard job of actually investigating crimes and building evidence-based cases to ensure convictions, had instead chosen to be judge and executioner.

She added that these were short-term gains and could lead to a cycle of violence. Instead of adopting abusive measures, the government needs to do the hard work, address the complex political, social and economic factors driving crime.

  “The Pakistani government should initiate police reforms and training to ensure that law enforcement is rooted in due process,” Ganguly noted.

When questioned about the popular legitimacy the paramilitary enjoyed arguably because of flawed criminal justice system, the HRW representative replied, “The deployment of a paramilitary force like the Rangers - without ensuring that

they are held accountable for abuses - is concerning because it can lead to a culture of impunity.”

She added that widespread power without accountability for security forces had already resulted in serious challenges in Pakistan.

Ganguly further said one significant difference between the previous military action in the city (1992-1999) and the current operation was that the federal government had linked it with the broader counter-terrorism action, the National Action Plan, which could lead to a terrible impact on  human rights protection.


Military courts

In its report, the HRW also questioned the transparency of Pakistan’s military courts.

It read, “At least 15 people were sentenced to death in proceedings shrouded in secrecy, giving rise to fair trial concerns. Neither the Pakistani government, nor the military articulated any criteria for the selection of cases to be tried in military courts, giving the impression of arbitrariness. No independent monitoring of the process was allowed, and the news of death sentences was often given by the Inter-Services Public Relations, a military communications agency, through the social media.”

Barrister Shahida Jameel, a former provincial law minister and lecturer at the SM Law College, vehemently disagrees with the report. She said military courts must be seen as a body which was within the system instead of something outside of it.

“The Supreme Court has the final authority on the verdicts issued by the military courts,” she said. “It has upheld decisions on review petitions filed by convicts,” she added.


Monitoring committee  

On the HRW report, veteran journalist Mazhar Abbas said there were indeed reports of serious human rights abuses during the Karachi operation.

“There are serious human rights concerns, wherever and whenever such law-enforcement operations take place,” he added.  “But the real question is, are we addressing them?”

Abbas said during the early days of the Karachi operation, it was decided that a monitoring committee would be set up to look into human rights abuses, but despite the prime minister’s approval, the body had not been formed at the provincial or national level.  “The monitoring committee is the need of hour,” he concluded.