On April 16, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released its annual report. The report titled, State of Human Rights in 2017, was dedicated to the memory of human rights activist Asma Jahangir and it underscored the dire state of fundamental rights in Pakistan.
Despite being elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the report deems a diplomatic success, Pakistan has struggled to curtail religious extremism, breaches in freedom of movement, expression and association. Access to justice was also listed as an urgent issue.
The report pointed out the state of health and education in the country, stating that Pakistan was among the countries with the highest number out-of-school children. It also mentioned the poor spending on public health by the government.
A striking feature of the report was that the number of people killed in encounters (495) were more than those who were killed in terror attacks. Enforced disappearances also continue unabated, with 868 new cases in 2017.
“The encounter culture is extremely old in our country,” said HRCP spokesperson Dr Mehdi Hasan, while talking to The Friday Times. “When police and other law enforcement authorities feel that a case cannot be proven in court, they take the law in their own hands.”
HRCP spokesperson IA Rehman said the encounters and disappearance numbers had increased across the country.
“If you notice the figures, they show that the encounter culture varies across the provinces. Yet collectively, there’s a significant increase in the overall numbers,” he said. “Also, let us not forget that there are extrajudicial killings that are not even considered as such – it’s all about the culture.”
The persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan was also noted in detail. The report noted that minority groups continued to be victimised. The report cited attacks on Shias, Christians and Ahmadis in particular and also discussed false accusations of blasphemy, which is an offence punishable by death in Pakistan.
“A major factor behind all human rights violations is religious extremism,” said Dr Mehdi Hasan. “The religious right’s attitude towards the minorities causes a lot of these violations. As soon as religion is involved, the government’s attitude becomes apologetic and they do not take any action.”
The report also gave a damning verdict on the rights of women in Pakistan, which continued to be ranked second worst on the Global Gender Gap Index.
“It is criminal that we’re sandwiched between Yemen and Syria. We should hang our heads in shame!” said HRCP vice chairperson Salima Hashmi.
Hashmi noted that while certain positive measures were taken at the provincial level, the overall state of women rights remained abysmal. She cites the lack of legislation as the main reason behind this.
“The struggle to raise the minimum age for marriage of girls, with the opposition coming from the Council of Islamic Ideology and religious parties, is evidence enough for the task ahead of us in terms of getting closer to gender parity,” Hashmi said.
Hashmi added that another cause for concern was the disparity between the government’s figures of crimes against women and the data that the HRCP had collected, which showed great abuse. “Moreover, this is an election year and there are still 12 million unregistered female voters in the country. This is one of our biggest concerns,” she added.
Dr Mehdi Hassan believed that state institutions were responsible for all human rights violations. “If the institutions did their job responsibly, the human rights situation could be a lot better,” he says.
Not long after this review of attacks on human rights in the country was published, the house of its editor was broken into, which is being seen as a ‘burglary-style raid.’ The perpetrators took away laptops and hard drives belonging to Maryam Hasan, the editor of the report, as well as jewellery and some valuables.
Although Maryam did not wish to speak the media till the incident has been investigated by the police, IA Rehman said the culprits had made it appear as a burglary to intimidate the editor.
“They were not thieves. What would thieves want with our reports, laptops and hard drives? Had they been thieves they would have robbed the house when Maryam wasn’t home. They actually went back and returned the next day because their goal was to scare her,” he said.
Rehman said the police were not cooperating in the case.
“The police, after arriving at the scene of the crime, refused to write the First Information Report (FIR). When we asked to get the FIR registered at the police station, they refused again, saying that they didn’t want to write the report like that, that it should be different.”
“When a person goes to get an FIR registered, they tell police what happened and they are supposed to write it down. That is how it is done. In that moment there is no need for any other advocacy, the legal course is that you write down what is told. They also made excuses like ‘our system is down’ and claimed that ‘we would send a lawyer when the system is back up’. As things stand, there is no FIR of the incident registered.”
Rehman maintains that HRCP is a “very small” organisation “without any enemies.” “We don’t bother anyone. We don’t have an enmity with anyone. And yet there was an attack on us – you know very well what this means.”