Rights that make it all wrong
LAHORE: Rights activists say that the Punjab government and its law enforcing agencies, like their federal and other provincial counterparts, have little respect for human rights as violations continue. They say that since the Punjab government is politically more stable, because of its numerical strength in the provincial legislature, violations of human rights in this province are all the more glaring. The government not only violates human rights itself, but also lends a hand to other state agencies to commit violations.
This was the consensus that emerged after talking to human rights activists here on Saturday. According to them, the police certainly top the list, but, of late, other “agencies” have also been activated by the powers that be, picking up dozens of people and prolonging the list of those who simply “disappeared”.
Though it is difficult to differentiate between federal and provincial roles in violating human rights in the country, because the issues and behaviours are similar, yet Punjab could also be credited with political suppression: disallowing dissent and showing disproportionate power to suppress the opposition’s activities. Political activist Zahid Zulfiqar Khan says that during the last few weeks, the Punjab government had banned even the smallest of rallies, which at best could not have mustered more than a few hundred participants. “The way they suppressed dissent reveals the real intensions of the provincial government. It banned rallies even by Imran Khan, which, in any way could not have gone beyond gathering a few hundred activists,” he said.
The government slapped Section 144 on the eve of the MMA protest on Nov 30, deploying thousands of policemen to control a protest that could not attract more than a few hundred people. It simply detained the protesters at the points of their emergence and held the entire city hostage with its brute power. “The government deployed the Punjab police, the Punjab Constabulary, the patrolling police and even traffic police. The law-enforcers were equipped with armoured carriers and teargas shells. The show of brute force only tells of the kind of the military mindset the rulers have, the shrinking of political space and intolerance reserved for all dissent. This is being done at the cost of basic human rights of people,” he concluded.
“Of late, incidents of “disappearances” have become very frequent, putting a question mark on the government’s stated commitment, and constitutional guarantees, to human rights,” says Asma Jehangir, a rights champion. “In addition to frequent disappearances, economic rights violations have also become a big issue. Access to economic opportunities has become restricted to so a select few that it is a violation of basic human rights of all Pakistanis. An ocean of poverty surrounds the islands of affluence. Most of the affluence is basically state sponsored, and those in power have usurped the rights of the proverbial children of a lesser god. With the introduction of the so-called ‘new vision of capitalist society’, almost all labour rights have disappeared. Rather, the new economic vision does not have any space for such rights. No one now talks about child and labour rights,” she lamented.
“Law and order and personal security now seem to be dreams of a distant past,” she said and added: “It is not only economic disparity that violates human rights, things have equally worsened on the social front. Vulnerable classes have become more vulnerable, minorities and women are the prime example of this supreme social vulnerability. The entire system that is woven by the rulers is designed to perpetuate this social and economic inequality at the cost of basic rights.” I A Rehman of the HRCP says that Punjab, or at least certain parts of it, is still being ruled by tribal laws. “Panchayat and jirga still rule supreme there. Girls are traded for settling personal and family disputes. Though courts have started taking notice of such abominable practices, such traditions are so deeply entrenched in that society that they largely escape the normal legal process. Areas like DG Khan, Rajanpur and Muzaffargarh are examples of this. These are documented events and the government does not seem to bother to break the trend.”
As if these violations are not enough, the rulers are bent upon violating land rights of the people, and do so with more ferocity. Tenants of the military lands are one such example. The army management, with the help of other law enforcing agencies, allegedly killed six tenants at Okara and refused to vacate the land, not too long ago. This, even though it was proved that ownership of the land does not belong to the military, and it was only an occupant. “Look at the situation of cultural rights; language being one of them. Punjab is refusing to allow its language as a medium of instruction, denying the people their basic cultural right. Even within Punjab, people are demanding vernacular languages as the medium of instruction, but all in vain. All these are smaller, but important issues. More important and larger human rights issues have emerged, eclipsing these smaller issues. That is how human rights violations are deepening by the day,” said Mr Rehman.
“One can list all internationally accepted human rights and see how many of them are being observed in Pakistan,” says Muhammad Tehsin of South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK). “I am sure all of them are being violated in varying degrees. Look at the law and order and personal security of the people – the most basic of all rights – and the picture of human rights becomes clear,” he said. But, of all, the brutality of the Punjab police is exemplary. It is being used for every conceivable violation of human rights, be it political, social or personal. This pattern of brutality is unmatched in any other federating unit. In order to strengthen their stranglehold on the people, the rulers are spending billions on the police. “They have allocated Rs20 billion for the police ‘uplift’ in the current provincial budget. The graph of street crime and political suppression is increasing ever since. The police are being used for personal service of rulers rather than being at the service of the people.
“Education has become so expensive that it has spun out of the reach of most of the people. The so-called campaign of ‘Literate Punjab’ (Parha-likha Punjab) is a hoax, which shows the hollowness of official commitment to human rights,” he said.
“Allocation of huge tracts of agricultural land to retired and serving military personnel in southern Punjab is another example of how the rulers have taken human and economic rights of the people,” says Irfan Mufti of the SAP-PK. “Instead of distributing state lands among the poor, and help promote social justice, the government is promoting certain classes at the expense of others,” he concludes.