International Human Rights Day
Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the UN General Assembly and is commemorated as International Human Rights Day every year. Pakistan too this year had much to remember and commemorate in the sphere of human rights. Both at home and abroad, significant events took place to position Pakistan very much in the list of countries pursuing the goals set out in 1948. In Paris, President Asif Ali Zardari addressed a conference jointly organized by Pakistan and UNESCO on the theme: “Stand up for Malala, Girls Education is a Right”. The president used the occasion to underline the argument that Pakistan is fighting the forces of darkness, hatred and violence.
Since Malala was the focus, the president reiterated to the international community that Pakistan was committed to providing equal rights for education to boys and girls and appealed to the world community to extend support and cooperation in this regard. He argued that the Pakistan government was completing its term, which had boosted its confidence in the fact that democracy was the only vehicle that could deliver peace and prosperity to the people and the region. All political parties and provinces had come together in Pakistan to make fundamental changes in the constitution regarding education for all children and it had been declared a fundamental right and the state’s responsibility, the president said.
This would have a transformational effect in defeating the forces of an extremist mindset that are against education for girls. Having met Malala in Birmingham before coming to Paris, the president told his audience that her recovery is a symbol of the resilience of the Pakistani nation and also a symbol of the battle between the mindset that Malala represents — a bright, progressive future for Pakistan — and the second mindset, a fringe minority of darkness, violence, hatred and conflict. Zardari announced Pakistan’s donation of $ 10 million for the Malala Fund being set up as part of the global efforts for girls’ education, dubbed the ‘Malala Plan’.
Meanwhile back home Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf announced in a function in Islamabad on the Day that the government was considering the promulgation of personal laws for the minorities, including marriage and divorce bills for Christians and Hindus. This, the PM said, would fulfil a longstanding demand of the minorities and help bring them at par with the Muslim majority. Certainly in the case of Hindus, this has of late given rise to concerns since they had little or no legal cover for their marriages and divorces.
The PM further announced that the government was contemplating the appointment of human rights defenders under the ministry of human rights. He too reiterated the government’s determination not to give in to the narrow minded and bigoted agenda of the extremists. Also in Islamabad, the PPP human rights cell held a seminar on “The Role of Political Parties in Promoting a Culture of Human Rights” to go with this year’s theme, “Inclusion and Participation in Public Life”.
Notably, all the speakers at the seminar agreed that the greatest threat to the rights of the people today is the culture of intolerance and extremism. It is religious extremism, they argued, which has separated us from Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. The cell recognized through citations and medals the courage of Salmaan Taseer, Malala Yousafzai, Shahbaz Bhatti and Fauzia Wahab.
Civil society and the working class too commemorated the Day, the former dedicating themselves to the campaign to end violence against women under the rubric: One Billion Rising, a symbolic reference to the estimated one billion women all over the world who have been subjected to violence.
Whether it is Malala, the almost martyr, or the actual martyrs Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and others who stood firm against extremism and paid the ultimate price, Pakistan has seen many struggles against the fanatics who have made Pakistani state and society resemble nothing more than a blood soaked jungle. However, what has also happened in recent years is the growing awareness in the polity and society of the need to combat this deadly affliction by promoting enlightenment, modern ideas, education and a progressive culture.
The PPP-led government too has been part of, if not in the forefront, of this growing awareness phenomenon. However, there is little room for complacency as the examples of human rights abuses of all shades and varieties show. Awareness is good as the first preliminary step, but there is still much to be done and miles to go before we can sleep.