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November 24, 2018

Civil society activists want govt to make registration of NGOs unproblematic


November 24, 2018

Expressing concern over the shrinking space for discourse on fundamental human rights, human and labour rights activists urged the government on Friday to ensure the provision of all rights without any discrimination.

Arbitrary laws, many of them originating from the colonial era, which curbed the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association must be reassessed, they said at a joint press conference held at the Karachi Press Club.

On this occasion, Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour and Research; Muhammad Ali Shah, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s chairman; Habibuddin Junaidi of the People’s Labour Bureau; Ali Palh Advocate of the Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network; prominent human rights activist Zulfiqar Halepoto; and noted trade unionists Qamrul Hassan and Manzoor Razi presented a ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’.

They said Pakistan’s civil society, in recent years, had come under increasing pressure for its work on fundamental freedoms. “Not only the members of the civil society have faced curbs on their operations, there have been threats to life, security and the wellbeing of those involved in any activity related to the advancement of democratic cause and fundamental freedoms,” said Karamat Ali.

“Pakistan’s civil society, comprising human rights defenders, political workers, NGOs, academics, media persons, trade unionists and professional and student bodies, among others, have worked as a force protecting democracy, advocating fundamental rights and advancing the delivery of essential services of health and education, while empowering millions of individuals and households through awareness, skills and economic benefits,” he said.

“It has been a partner in the country’s development and has made critical contributions to the Pakistan’s political, economic and cultural foundations. This has been done through assisting governments with work in the development sector to improve the lives of people and has also voicing concerns over violations of fundamental rights.

“The consensus-driven charter is directed towards the newly-elected federal and provincial government in power. We see the formation of a new democratic government, which came into power with an agenda of change, as a sign of fresh beginnings for Pakistan’s civil society.”

He said both the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Pakistan Peoples Party had expressed their commitment in their manifestos to the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. “This is an opportunity for collaboration over rights, development and a secure future for the country, based on democratic foundations. We urge the government to work together with us towards addressing any reservations that maybe present on both sides,” he said.

The civil society activists lamented that legally established local and international NGOs were being asked to close their operations in Pakistan. They called upon the government to reconsider its actions against authorised members of the civil society.

“We feel that the requirements of FATF are being misinterpreted; therefore, the need to re-evaluate and work towards developing strategies to identify unauthorised NGOs is inevitable.” Shah, a leader of the fishing community, criticised the authorities’ current move to register civil society NGOs under what they called “black laws”. He added: “Instead of appointing members from parliament and civil society, the government has assigned officials from various law enforcement agencies, and this will create hurdles for NGOs seeking to register.”

He said the government should discuss the issue of the registration of NGOs in the parliament. Lawyer and rights activist Palh said families of “missing persons” across the province had been facing huge financial issues and the government had failed to ascertain their whereabouts.

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