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May 4, 2021

Annual report: Economic woes, curbs on dissent marred 2020: HRCP

 
May 4, 2021

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Monday released its annual report —State of Human Rights in 2020 — that seeks to “jolt the state and government out of their complacency that a neo-liberal, hidebound regime will deliver to Pakistan’s people the rights and freedoms to which they are legally and constitutionally entitled.”

In a press release, the HRCP states it finds that the Covid-19 pandemic aggravated existing inequalities, leaving millions of vulnerable workers at risk of losing their livelihoods.

“The Benazir Income Support and Ehsaas Programmes, which the government sensibly made part of its approach to the pandemic, likely saved thousands of households from sinking deeper into poverty, but these programmes are only a small facet of what a robust, pro-poor strategy should look like. A pivotal step by the government could be to make the right to health a fundamental right under the Constitution and invest in preparedness, quality and access.”

The HRCP expressed its concern at delay in the local government elections in the country, in violation of the Elections Act 2017, adding the pandemic warrants effective local governments. The delay also negates the spirit of the 18th Constitutional Amendment.

The HRCP notes that the pandemic dealt a serious blow to education as students were compelled to attend online classes to the detriment of thousands in Balochistan, the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan, who had little or no access to reliable internet connections.

The HRCP states: “That State of Human Rights in 2020 was released on World Press Freedom Day should give the state pause for thought. This is now the third year running in which the HRCP has underscored escalating curbs on freedom of expression and opinion in its report.”

The HRCP notes that from the abduction of senior journalist Matiullah Jan to the arrest of a top media groups’s chief, it is clear that media groups continue to be pushed into towing the line. Worryingly, the National Accountability Bureau continues its operations as an instrument that violates fundamental human rights, including the right to fair trial and due process, among other things, the HRCP adds.

The commission says: “Prisons in Pakistan remain sorely overcrowded, with an occupancy rate of 124 percent. This is marginally lower than in 2019, but the ever-present risk of infection in the country’s prisons shows that the state has failed in its duty of care. On a welcome note, the death penalty was awarded in just over 100 cases in 2020 — a substantial fall from at least 584 cases in 2019, and no executions were reported to have been carried out.”

The HRCP laments that the long-awaited bill aimed at criminalising enforced disappearances has still not been passed despite commitments by the government since 2018. Despite the fact that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has failed to address entrenched impunity, the government extended the latter’s mandate by another three years.

On Balochistan, the HRCP says the province remained especially vulnerable to excesses of power, from the extrajudicial killing of Hayat Baloch, an unarmed student, by a Frontier Corps official, to the shooting of four-year-old Bramsh and allegations that the men responsible had been sent by the alleged local leader of a ‘death squad.’

If 2020 is the year that changed everything, let 2021 not prove to be the year in which nothing changed at all, the HRCP concluded.