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April 17, 2018

HRCP takes stock of human rights situation in Pakistan


April 17, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Human rights activist on Monday expressed concern over the restrictions on GEO channel in almost 75 per cent area of the country terming it against the basic right of freedom of expression.

They said that increasing violation of the basic right of freedom of expression is alarming and restriction on Geo is one example of this rising trend. “There is no answer from the authorities when we ask for the reason of this restriction,” said Saleema Hashmi. The speakers also expressed their concern over disappearances and blasphemy charges on the bloggers.

The concern was raised at the launch of the annual report of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), titled `State of Human Rights in 2017.’ The launching event was addressed by eminent rights activist and spokesperson HRCP I A Rehman, Senator Afarsiyab Khattak and human rights activist and HRCP office bearers Saleema Hashmi, Marvi Sermad and Nasreen Azhar.

Speaking on this occasion, HRCP’s office bearers underscored the rising incidence of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and the extension of the jurisdiction of military courts. They highlighted that false accusations of blasphemy and the ensuing violence, the number of children engaged in labour under hazardous conditions and unabated violence against women remain grim markers of the last year. They also raised concern over low level of conviction and expressed disappointment over third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) saying that Pakistan failed to show much progress in their international commitments.

The report, dedicated to late Asma Jahangir, records of 868 cases of ‘enforced disappearances’ received in 2017 by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, 555 were disposed of—but the real numbers are likely far higher. “We believe that most of the cases still remain unreported due to fear,” said I A Rehman demanding to criminalize the enforced disappearances.

The report says that the number of deaths linked to terrorism continued to decline while the federal parliament made a total of 34 laws, passed two acts to meet obligations under ratified international conventions besides 44 provincial laws adopted during 2017. It says that for the first time, the national census included a category for transgenders and the government issued a passport with a transgender category, during the year.

The HRCP office said that deaths linked to terrorism might have decreased, but the ‘soft targets’ of religious minorities and law enforcement agencies continue to bear the brunt of violence. “In an environment where ‘innocent until proven guilty’ carries no weight, an accusation of blasphemy leads to a lynching by a zealous mob. A child employed for arduous domestic work is tortured. A young boy and girl are electrocuted by their own families on the orders of a tribal council, over a matter of ‘honour’. A rights activist disappears overnight without trace.”

The report mentioned that murder, rape, acid crimes, kidnappings, domestic violence and honour killings persisted throughout the year and majority of cases remained unreported. It says that more than 5,660 crimes were reported against women in Pakistan’s four provinces during the first 10 months of 2017.Children were subject to all forms of violence despite the enactment of several child protection legislations in recent years. Similar legislation in favour of the transgender community has not ended the violence and discrimination against them.

“We appreciate the action taken over Zainab’s case but unfortunately no effort is made to understand the reasons behind such cases and why are they continuing?” said IA Rehman. The report recommended making laws for all religions instead of making Muslim centric laws and demands to restore moratorium on death penalty.

The report says that Pakistan still has the most number of children out of school than anywhere in the world and spends on one per cent of GDP on health rather than the 6 percent recommended by WHO. The shortfall in housing is now up to 10 million units.

It states that countless offenders are not brought to justice, yet the jails are overcrowded, and the courts are overwhelmed with a backlog of cases. In 2017, there were 333,103 cases pending in the country’s courts. As at November 2017, Pakistani prisons held 82,591 prisoners (down from 84,315 in 2016), the report said.

Pakistan due to report on the Sustainable Development Goals to the UN in 2018, the report says that the country is no nearer to meeting the deadline of 2030 for ensuring that all children receive primary education.

It says that the prevalence of Thalassaemia and HIV/AIDs has increased, as many as 35.5 million adults in Pakistan are diabetic, and the country has the high prevalence of hepatitis C. The report appreciates that the Pakistan Climate Change Act 2017 was passed to meet Pakistan’s obligations under international conventions relating to climate change and its effects but Pakistan features in the high-risk category of countries considered to be most vulnerable to climate change.

It further mentions that Pakistan still has the world’s fourth highest rate of water use and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) recently issued a stark warning that the country was on track to run out of water by 2025. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, only 36% of the Pakistani population on average, including 41% in urban areas and 32% in rural areas, has access to safe drinking water in the country.

The report says that national human rights institutions need adequate authority, independence and resources to carry out their mandates effectively. Without that, the only recourse left to the unrepresented and the disadvantaged is through the activists and human rights defenders who risk their own freedom to speak out on their behalf.

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