With Pakistan scheduled to appear before the United Nations next month to present an overview of measures taken for protection of human rights in the country, civil society activists voiced concerns over various issues hampering the enforcement of related laws.
Starting off a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday, Mehnaz Rehman of the Aurat Foundation spoke of the shrinking space for a free press in the country and cited the recent attack on The News’ senior journalist Ahmad Noorani as an example.
Referring to the boycott of newspapers in Quetta, she said the press there was also facing several issues and the state should ensure that it [the press] does not cease to exist there. Known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the report would be presented by Pakistan’s representatives, whereas other UN member states would in turn offer recommendations to improve the current standing.
Mehnaz stressed that reports presented to the UN by different human rights groups and organisations are also taken into account. She pointed out that comparisons would also be drawn with the last UPR presented by Pakistan in 2012.
Jameel Junejo of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum said it was a basic human right to mobilise for a cause but the introduction of a new rule to go through a lengthy process via the Economic Affairs Division was creating hurdles for many rights groups.
“Non-governmental organisations are already registered but under the new laws they are forced to go over the processes again. This has caused nothing other than inconvenience for those working in far-off areas.”
Junejo said the state should facilitate these organisations to operate freely, instead of clamping down on them. “This year we saw that the state tried to muzzle all kinds of dissent. Not only were journalists abducted and thrashed, activists who expressed concerns on social media also went missing for months,” said activist Zeenia Shaukat.
She lamented that over the past four years Pakistan had fallen several steps back and a bleaker picture had been painted of the state of human rights in the country. “It is more concerning that those who manage to return after going ‘missing’ are never brought to the courts for the charges levelled against them. Adding to that is the fact that the perpetrators are also never identified, let alone held accountable. These actions prove that we haven’t made any considerable impact with regards to implementation of human rights laws,” said Zeenia.
The activists also expressed concerns over the way minorities were treated in the country as, in the past four years, attacks on their places of worship and cases pertaining to forced conversions were on the rise.
Naghma Sheikh of the Democratic Students’ Federation (DSF) said the government should lift the ban imposed on student unions because participating in student politics was also a basic human right.
“It is important for students to mobilise themselves politically if they are to shape the country’s future. With extremism raging in campuses, the lynching of Mashal Khan being an example, it is extremely important for students to organise themselves and make sure that they are heading to progress,” she said.
Commenting on the National Action Plan, which was supposed to ensure that human rights were safeguarded, the activists said the plan was yet to be properly implemented, which again showed the state’s response to human rights violations.