The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has issued its annual, State of Human Rights (2016) report, and it makes for a harrowing tale. It might come as a surprise to many, but the HRCP’s report shows that the year 2016 saw the highest number of enforced disappearances in the country. Around 728 people have been added to the official list of the disappeared in the year. Three human rights activists were killed over the year while a number of others continued to receive threats from state and non-state actors. The HRCP also criticised the effectiveness of military courts, stating that civil courts had decided more anti-terrorism cases than military courts over a year period. The fear expressed by the report is that secret court procedures have led to a situation where courts are no longer protecting the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people of Pakistan. Combined with the recent UN report criticising the widespread practice of torture by Pakistan’s law enforcers, the country is entering a period where the idea of security has trumped the idea of providing justice.
In the context of the shrinking but ever present threat of terrorism, it would make sense for the Pakistani state to appear as the guarantor of human rights and justice, in opposition to fringe terrorism groups that have no respect for humanity. However, this is not the case. Even the IDPs returning home have found limited support. The story of the Afghan refugees in the country has been worse, with about half a million of them returning to Afghanistan amid an increasingly hostile climate. The situation for the working class, women and religious minorities has not improved either. The number of ‘honour’ killing cases has increased, and at least 2,500 cases of violence against women were registered across the country. Religious minorities in the country have continued to be targeted for forced conversions, kidnapping, bullying and terrorism. Human rights activists and social welfare NGOs also found themselves under greater scrutiny by law enforcers. Six journalists and a blogger were killed over the year and there have been increased levels of self-censorship and intimidation faced by the media. The human rights body also noted that environmental degradation and the absence of access to sanitation and safe water were infringing the rights of about 80 percent of Pakistan’s population. It is unfortunate that year after year we continue to say the same thing: the state has failed to protect the basic human dignity of its citizens.