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May 5, 2021

State of human rights

Editorial

 
May 5, 2021

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s report, ‘State of Human Rights in 2020’, is a damning indictment of both the government and state institutions which, according to the report, have yet again failed to protect the fundamental human rights of the people in the country. The report highlights complacency on the part of the government and state, rather than what is expected of them: delivering to Pakistan’s people the rights and freedoms to which they are constitutionally entitled. One of the main features of 2020 was the economic hardships that the citizens of Pakistan have faced over the past year under a two-fold scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rising inflation that had already hit the poor even before the pandemic arrived in Pakistan. The increasing curbs on dissent in the country are also featured prominently in the report.

This report should serve as a wake-up call for the authorities in the country who underestimated the pandemic and its potential to aggravate existing inequalities and leave millions of vulnerable workers at risk. The pandemic has hit them hard, and millions have lost their livelihoods as can be gauged by an increasing number of the destitute on the streets of big cities and small towns across the country. BISP and other programmes have made a slight difference but overall, the report points out, the country in 2020 lacked a pro-poor strategy that should have been result-oriented and robust. The government failed to make the right to health a fundamental right under the constitution and the access to health facilities remained difficult. There was a lack of preparedness for the impending crisis which compounded the impact of the pandemic. Another front where the government fared poorly was local government where the provincial governments delayed the local bodies’ elections time and again using various pretexts, despite repeated reprimands by the courts. This was a gross violation of the Elections Act 2017 and also negated the spirit of the 18th Amendment of the constitution. The absence of an effective local government mechanism exacerbated the quality of response to the pandemic.

The digital divide became alarmingly obvious in 2020; the report too points out how students from areas in Balochistan and the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as well as most areas in Gilgit-Baltistan, that were supposed to attend online classes had little or no access to reliable internet connections. Regarding curbs on the media and the crackdown on dissent, if you look at the HRCP report in conjunction with the Freedom Network Report released last week you get a grim picture as far as journalism stands in the country – with escalating curbs on freedom of expression. Internationally and nationally, these reports carry a lot of weight and their recommendations must be implemented at once. As a country we need to pay closer attention to the shocking yet routine violation of human rights chronicled in the report, and pressure the government to live up to the ideals of our constitution.