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October 4, 2019

‘State must shrink wage gap, give provinces their due fiscal shares’


October 4, 2019

Human rights activist and intellectual IA Rehman said on Thursday that the state needs to reduce income inequality in the country, adding that all the citizens should be treated equally, irrespective of their gender, caste, creed or race.

Addressing a seminar on ‘The State of Human Rights in Pakistan’ at the University of Karachi, Rehman said the state also needs to ensure that the provinces are receiving their due financial shares from the federal government.

He said it is sometimes argued that Pakistan is struggling to overcome many crises and finds it difficult to give priority to human rights. He suggested that if the state were to give more attention to human rights, the citizens will be better equipped to appreciate the country’s struggles.

Missing persons

Rehman said the reported cases of human rights violations are always fewer than the actual number of such incidents. In such cases, enforced disappearances remain a major cause of concern to the state and the people alike, he added.

He pointed out that last year the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received 1,098 new complaints regarding missing persons, while around 21,550 cases were pending until December 2018, and only 671 cases were decided.

“We hear of human rights violations daily, but not a single person has been punished for enforced disappearances so far.”

Rights of women, kids

Talking about sexual violence against women and children, Rehman said that last year the man who was convicted in the Kasur rape case was sentenced to death, but the subsequent events showed that sexual assaults on children continued unabated.

He said that some 845 cases of sexual violence against women and 316 honour killings were reported this year, adding that most of the perpetrators of crimes against little children remained untraced and many sexual abuse victims did not have easy access to justice.

The activist said women who complain of being subjected to violence at the hands of their husbands or other relatives are turned back by the police without registering FIRs. He reminded everyone that almost a decade has passed since the insertion of Article 25A into the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution. He said that millions of children who could have benefited from Article 25A have been deprived of the opportunity to access education.

Contrary to this, he added, Pakistan tells the United Nations’ human rights bodies that a National Commission on the Rights of the Child has been constituted, but the fact is that there is nothing on the ground.

Religious identity

Rehman said that an Islamabad High Court judge, who was later removed from the bench by the Supreme Judicial Council, had ruled that all citizens should be identified by their belief and all candidates for government service must disclose their faith. The government, however, failed to challenge the ruling, while the National Database & Registration Authority was unusually prompt in enforcing the unjust order, he added.

Media workers’ rights

Regarding the issues related to the freedom of speech and the right to know, the intellectual said Pakistani media has repeatedly been complaining of increasing curbs on the freedom of expression.

He said that according to reports, between May 2017 and April 2018, more than 150 attacks were carried out on journalists and media groups across the country.

Government approach

Rehman linked human rights violations with the state’s tardiness in implementing its own initiatives related to human rights. He said the National Commission for Human Rights Act was adopted in 2011, but the institution did not become functional until 2015.

The activist said the commission’s chairperson completed his four-year term this May, but no has yet been appointed in his place. This cannot be interpreted as a firm commitment to allow an independent human rights watchdog in the public sector, he added.

He said that in June 2014 the Supreme Court announced a landmark judgment on the rights of religious minorities. Among other things, it called for constituting a minorities commission or council to receive and resolve complaints and to advise the government on policies relating to the minorities, he added.

Rehman said the court had also proposed forming a special police force to protect the minorities’ religious shrines and worship places, but those recommendations were yet to be accepted. On the other hand, he added, the minorities, especially Sindh’s Hindus, complain of forced conversions of their girls.

Human rights

Organised by KU’s Department of International Relations and held at the university’s Arts & Social Sciences Auditorium as part of the Sheikh Mutahir Ahmed Memorial Lecture Series, the seminar was also addressed by other speakers.

The keynote speakers included KU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Khalid Mehmood Iraqi, Department of International Relations Chairman Dr Naeem Ahmed and faculty member Dr Nausheen Wasi.

They said that despite the fact that the Constitution assures fundamental rights, the situation of human rights in the country has been deteriorating due to several reasons, including unimplemented laws, weak democracy and an ineffective judicial system.

In the past few years, the state has taken some measures that can help improve the chapter on fundamental rights in the Constitution, but those initiatives have not been enforced so far, they added.

The speakers stressed the need to promote the culture of critical thinking at universities. They said the state has to take tangible measures to ensure a better human rights situation across the country. “We must have some forums where every citizen, regardless of their colour, creed or religious adherences, can freely talk about the scale of human rights violations.”

Expressing his views on the human rights conditions in Pakistan, Dr Iraqi said there are a lot of areas that need the urgent attention of the government and the other major stakeholders.

He said governments alone cannot address such issues and always need the support of the people, the academia and intellectuals to resolve matters related to human rights.

As for Dr Ahmed, he said the Constitution ensures humans rights, as there is a complete chapter in it that deals with them, but the question is how those rights can be enjoyed by everyone.

He said that until the implementation of laws, we cannot hope for a better situation regarding human rights. He also stressed the need to make the people aware of the rights the Constitution guarantees them.

Dr Ahmed said that since 2018 his department has been organising the lecture series to promote critical thinking among the students. He recalled that throughout his academic and research work, Dr Sheikh Mutahir Ahmed had served the cause of human rights.