Human rights abuses
PAKISTAN was created to protect what was considered a community at a disadvantage. It is ironic, then, that some 65 years later, the implementation of human and minority rights meet with obstacles; in fact, the violations of these rights appear to be endemic. On Thursday, a day before the anniversary of the 1940 Lahore Resolution, celebrated as the point in history when the idea of the country was formally conceived, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan released a report that makes for depressing reading. The 330-page State of Human Rights in 2011 reminds us that even as Pakistan takes a step forward, it takes two steps back.
Consider the position of women’s rights. While significant gains have been made by parliament in passing legislation aimed at protecting women, the HRCP reminds us that the year past saw almost 1,000 women murdered in incidents seen as ‘honour’ killings. Given that legislation with regard to such crimes has been in place for many years — the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2004 specifies the criminalisation of the offence “committed in the name or on the pretext of honour” — these figures point to the state’s inability to follow through in terms of successful prosecutions and changing the patriarchal societal mindset.
According to the HRCP, 4,500 cases of domestic violence were reported over the past year, which is bound to be merely the tip of the iceberg vis-à-vis such ‘private’ crimes which mostly take place behind closed doors. A similar contradiction is evident in the courts.
While the judicial system has of late been seized of what has been termed ‘judicial activism’ concerning high-profile or critical issues such as ‘memogate’ or enforced disappearances, at the lower level matters remain bleak. The HRCP report says that nearly 80,000 people in Pakistan’s prisons are under trial. A similarly bleak picture is evident in many other areas, with the HRCP noting that children were pushed into hazardous work and beggary in flood-affected areas; chronic malnutrition was increasing; and the dropout rate from primary to secondary schools stood at an appalling 50 per cent last year.
Perhaps the lesson dictated by these figures is that in Pakistan the much-debated ‘trickle-down effect’ has not materialised. Reform is needed at the grass-roots and the ordinary population must be educated about human rights. At the same time, the state must urgently turn its attention towards matters of good governance and the provision of services, areas that have been neglected for far too long. The HRCP report reminds us that this is a society rent by violence and want, due to the errors of both omission and commission primarily by the state.