Sunday, April 8, 2018

Pakistan: Human Rights Commission demands ‘an even playing field for all’

HRCP said it was appalled by the recent Islamabad High Court ruling that proposes making a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | Int'l Desk
Source/Credit: Daily Times
By Web Desk | April 8, 2018

LAHORE: Given the vicissitudes of Pakistan’s political situation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) demands that free and fair elections be held as scheduled this year. In a statement issued following its 32nd Annual General Meeting, HRCP has reiterated the importance of ensuring an even playing field for all-without interference from any state agency.

“There must be special efforts to ensure that both women and religious minorities are able to participate in, and contest, the elections freely and without fear, pressure or intimidation. In this context, mobile polling stations could be a way of ensuring that people who might otherwise be unable to vote, are able to exercise this fundamental right,” the organization added.

In a press statement, HRCP said it was perturbed at suggestions for rolling back the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award of 2009. Any move in this direction, it said, would threaten the integrity of the federation: the state needed to move toward greater federation, and not backward.

The fact that enforced disappearances have continued unabated in the last year is cause for serious concern. HRCP has said that “the protracted delay by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in establishing the whereabouts of missing persons is unacceptable” and demands that Pakistan sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. “The impunity with which people have been whisked away, especially forthright civil society activists such as Raza Mahmood Khan, needs to be curbed immediately,” it added. In this context, HRCP proposes that the recommendations of the 2010 Judicial Commission for Missing Persons be implemented.

The rise in the number of extrajudicial killings, particularly in Sindh, said HRCP, was a stark reminder that Naqeebullah Mehsud was just one case of many: it was imperative that the government take strict notice of such impunity.

HRCP has reiterated its concern at the growing exclusion of civil society from affairs of the state. “The shrinking space for progressive thought in Pakistan is especially disconcerting. The fact that NOCs are apparently in the control of the security agencies and that donor money is not going to the areas where it is most needed-such as ‘no-go’ areas in Balochistan and FATA-means that human rights are increasingly under strain,” added the organization.

Referring to the “mainstreaming of extremist parties-notoriously, the Tehrik Labaik Ya Rasool Allah”, HRCP has underlined the lack of transparency in the country’s adherence to UN requirements of the ban on militant and terrorist organizations. “The space that has opened up for religious and militant organizations to operate with impunity,” it added, “is reflected in the hero’s welcome that awaited the 26 people acquitted by the courts in the case of Mashal Khan’s mob lynching.”

“The surge in violence against women and children,” HRCP has said, “is a sobering reminder that the periodic uproar against individual cases-such as the unspeakable case of six-year-old Zainab in Kasur-is simply not enough to substantially curb this trend.” The organization demands that the right of vulnerable groups to security of life and person be reinforced at every level of society and government.

HRCP has reiterated its support for the rights of workers and peasants across Pakistan, saying that “the case of the recent fatalities in the coal-mining sector are a grim reminder that the country’s labour protection laws and mechanisms fail to meet the standards of decent work recommended by the International Labour Organization. This, coupled with the rising cost of living, means that workers simply continue to eke out an existence without any prospect of betterment.”

Pointing to the “alarming spike in the suicide rate, especially among young women in Gilgit-Baltistan,” HRCP said there was clearly a disconnect between young people’s aspirations and what the state and society were willing to offer them in terms of opportunities to lead secure, fulfilling lives.

HRCP said it was appalled by the recent Islamabad High Court ruling that proposes making a declaration of faith mandatory for government and semi-government job applicants, including for the armed forces, judiciary and the civil services. This ruling has “serious repercussions for all religious minorities, not least the Ahmadiyya community. Such requirements will only enable and deepen institutional discrimination against minority communities.”

If the government continues its apologist policy toward religious extremism, the organization continued, “Pakistan cannot expect to protect its religious minorities. The recent attack on a church in Quetta, the blasphemy charges leveled against Patras Masih in Lahore, the killing of two Hindu brothers in Mithi, and random killings of Hazara and Ahmadiyya community members reflect the latitude still given to religious extremists. The weaponization of religion, whether by state institutions, non-state actors or political parties, must cease.”

Criticizing the increasing trend of judicial activism, HRCP said that this tended to impinge on people’s fundamental rights and the country’s fragile democracy. “Rather than relying on vague interpretations of morality, the superior judiciary should decide cases of public importance based on established constitutional and legal principles. The excessive number of suo moto cases in the last year have in no way served to strengthen democracy,” added the organization.

Referring to Gilgit-Baltistan as being trapped “in limbo”, HRCP has said that,”so long as it is not brought into the federation of Pakistan, its citizens will not enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed to all other citizens of the country. It is imperative that every citizen of Gilgit-Baltistan enjoy the same freedoms that the Constitution accords to Pakistani citizens.”

Pointing to the recent case of Geo TV having inexplicably been taken off air, the continual harassment of journalists, the closure of the Quetta Press Club and restrictions on circulations of newspapers in the city, HRCP has underscored the fact that freedom of expression in Pakistan remains under attack.

The tendency to keep development projects under foreign purview, said HRCP, “is not acceptable and is clearly causing unease among local residents. All development projects-including those undertaken as part of CPEC-must be transparent, and planned and executed so as not to violate any human right. The lack of transparency that surrounds the recent Chinese initiatives in Gwadar, for instance, is cause for concern. Asking these questions, moreover, is very much in the public interest and must not be deemed ‘anti-state’ or ‘anti-Pakistan’.”

The organization welcomed the Pashtun Tahafuz movement “in the spirit that all people have a right to express their grievances peacefully. The legitimate concerns underlying the movement reflect a breakdown in the relationship between the state and the people. We urge the government to listen to these concerns and to refrain from interfering in the Pashtuns’ right of association as well as that of others.”

HRCP said it deplored the state’s lack of action on the plight of Pakistanis in foreign prisons, especially in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and India. The state, it said, must provide them with legal aid and other relief.

Published in Daily Times, April 8th 2018

Read original post here: Pakistan: Human Rights Commission demands ‘an even playing field for all’

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