The poor state of human rights in Pakistan

 HRCP state of human rights 2021report paints a sorry picture of the human rights in Pakistan

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has released its annual report on the state of human rights in Pakistan. The 2021 human rights report painted a sorry state of human rights in Pakistan. The human rights situation in the country further deteriorated during PTI rule of nearly 44 months. The report points out serious violations of human rights in Pakistan. The fundamental human rights including the economic, social, legal, and political rights were denied to many Pakistanis.

The HRCP put forward its detailed review of the state of human rights in the country and the measures that should be taken to reduce human rights violations in the country. The media remained under pressure as the PTI government continue to target the journalists having critical views about the government policies. At least 9 journalists faced harassment and violence in the line of the duty.  

The violence against women is still rampant and took every possible form: from rape to domestic abuse to horrific murders to honour killings. The report has noted that 478 honour killings were reported in the country in 2021, although the number is almost certainly much higher with many never reaching the press, and over 5237 cases of rapes were reported by the media.

 Overall, violence in the country appeared to have increased quite dramatically. The HRCP has especially noted the case of Nazim Jokhio, and the mob lynching of Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot. These are but just a few examples of the disturbing trend of increased violence in the country.

We have watched in horror as Pakistani society has increasingly grown more violent.  We have become a less tolerant society in the last few years.  Religious extremism has also increased in the last three decades as religious groups become more emboldened and violent. This is a direct result of consistent state policies that encouraged extremist religious views and ideologies.

The report has also noted the way the previous government used ordinances to push through laws, some of them highly detrimental to freedom of expression. The HRCP has also noted that religion was used multiple times over the years to try and stop various acts of legislation from being passed.

One of the most difficult issues human rights defenders in Pakistan have faced over a number of years has been that of missing persons or enforced disappearances. In 2021, says the HRCP, the highest number of enforced disappearances was reported to have been in Balochistan, with the government having failed to resolve the concerns of families of the missing despite sit-ins in Islamabad.

The report said the PTI government failed to get the long-awaited bill passed to criminalise enforced disappearance as a separate autonomous offense despite making commitments since 2018.

It said the highest number of enforced disappearances (1,108) reported by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance in 2021 was in Balochistan while the highest number of pending cases - 1,417 - were reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Highlighting the issue of freedom of expression, the report pointed out that at least in nine cases journalists were intimidated or silenced.

“The state’s attempts to expand the scope of restriction on freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Constitution have emboldened non-state actors to impose their whims often violently on those who do not agree with them.”

It pointed out delays in court cases and said by year-end there were over 2.14 million cases pending in the judiciary against the 2.15 million in 2020, a slight fall in the backlog of cases.

The HRCP asked the government to take steps for protecting the freedom of expression and rights of vulnerable and excluded groups. 

The report pointed out that at least 1,896 cases of child abuse were documented across the country between January and June, according to one estimate though the number is higher. Children between the ages of six and 15 years, both boys and girls, remained the most vulnerable to abuse and violence. Police continue to violate the basic human rights of ordinary citizens.    

Pakistan needs to do a lot more to protect the basic human rights of its citizens. We have failed to make human rights our priority so far. We need to change our attitude towards human rights as a state and society. Protecting the most vulnerable sections of our population including women and children should be our top priority. Freedom of speech, expression, and media is a must to build a democratic society. 

                                                                 Rukhsana Manzoor Deputy Editor    

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