Human Rights in Pakistan
I have been accused by some friends, that my articles about Pakistan have always been negative. So, hoping to write something positive, I searched through the various local newspapers on the internet, for some upbeat news about Pakistan, but going through the newspapers for the past 3 years, most of the reports that I came across about Pakistan, were unfortunately negative and depressing.
For instance, take the law and order situation, the role of the judiciary, corruption, human rights, basic health and education facilities and all the other factors which improve the quality of life for citizens and you will find that all are either in short supply or missing in Pakistan and our country can be compared to a Banana Republic.
Terrorist attacks, target killings, kidnappings, child labor, crime against women, Karo Kari, rape, disappearing of citizens without a trace, corruption, mismanagement, etc., have become a part of our daily lives and our health, education and basic civic facilities are considered to be amongst the lowest in the world. Therefore, I hope that I will be forgiven for not being able to write a positive article, as everything stinks in this state of the Pak and the Pure.
Focusing on Human Rights, I am sure that most readers must be familiar with the name of Asma Jehangir and her sister, Hina, and their activities and passion to fight for women and human rights. They belong to that rare group of brave citizens who call themselves “activists” and both, Asma and Hina are activists to the core.
I had met the two sisters on various occasions in the past and had been impressed by their blunt and sharp criticism of government policies on women’s and human rights in Pakistan. Asma has always demanded an explanation relating to the disappearance of men and students from Balochistan and Gilgit and accused the judiciary for failing to protect women’s rights. In her firebrand style, she has said that under the present weak, judicial system, the poor have very little chance of getting justice and are at the mercy of the rich and the powerful, the landlords and the police.
She has cited cases of bonded labor, the rights of the minorities, discriminatory laws relating to rape, the rape of Mukhtaran Mai and Sonia Naz and the consistent failure of the judicial system and the police to take effective action against the culprits.
In both the rape cases, the government, the judiciary and the law enforcing agencies had failed to take any action against the perpetrators of the crime, despite a public outcry and it was only when Mukhtaran Mai had taken her case to the International People’s Court and the foreign media had taken up the issue, that the government was forced into taking any action.
Returning to Women’s Rights in Pakistan, another lady who is very vocal on this sensitive issue is Justice Majida Razvi, who has the distinction of being the first woman judge of the High Court of Pakistan. She was appointed by former President Pervez Musharraf in July 2000, as the Chairperson of the National Commission on Status of Women in Pakistan.
The main objective of the Commission is the emancipation of women, provision of equal opportunities for women and the elimination of discrimination against women. The task includes the examination of the policies, programmes and other measures taken by the government for women development and the review of all laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women and gender equality in accordance with the Constitution.
According to Justice Majida, the burning gender issues in Pakistan are the discriminatory blasphemy and family laws.
‘Then we have the Hudood, Qisas and Diyat laws. If you look into the Quranic Concept it was for the benefit of the victim’s family, but it is being misapplied and misused in cases of Honor Killings and Karo Kari’.
However, Justice Majida has pointed out that NCSW is only a recommendatory body, but the recommendations given by the Commission should be taken seriously and should be supported by the Government and members of Civil Society. But even Gen. Musharraf, the former president failed to introduce the necessary changes in the Hudood Ordinance, because he was afraid of the backlash from the mullahs.
Justice Majida Razvi is also a Trustee of Helpline Trust and guides the Trust on issues relating to Consumer Rights and other related activities.
Women’s Rights activists have been demanding amendments to the Offence of Zina (enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance 1979, which requires a rape victim to present four male witnesses to substantiate her claim of rape and if she fails to do so, she is liable to be convicted of adultery under the penal code.
The amendment was presented by MQM to the parliament, on the grounds that it discriminated against women and that out of 57 Muslim countries worldwide, the Hudood Ordinance, which had been introduced without being incorporated in the Constitution, was enforced only in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
However, our enlightened and so-called educated legislators had rejected the bill when it was put to a vote and called the Hudood Ordinance a “part of the divine law” that could not be amended. So much for our ‘learned’ legislators.
Due to the lack of political will and a weak judiciary, Women and Human Rights in Pakistan still remain dismal and it would seem that the small armies of Human Rights warriors and torch bearers like Justice Majida Razvi, Asma Jehangir and other activists, have a long battle ahead.
There are pages in our chequered history book, that are stained by the blood of innocent women, that need to be removed, but whether these brave warriors can succeed in doing so is uncertain, as these stains cannot be washed away from the soil of the Pak and the Pure, without changing the mindset of our feudal parliamentarians and mullahs.
At the same time, the government and the judiciary are not prepared to play a more positive and assertive role, due to the backlash it is bound to trigger. So, until we find an enlightened leader and parliament that has the courage to tackle this sensitive issue, Human and Women’s Rights in Pakistan will continue to be dismal and women will continue to be the victims of Karo Kari, rape and brutality.