Rights activists demand end to exploitation
KARACHI: The people will have to struggle hard to seize their rights from the exploitative forces, and once they have got them, they will have to protect the rights as these forces would try to regain their control, said human rights activists on Tuesday.
Speaking at a seminar on ‘Human and civil rights, newly signed treaties, reservations, minorities’ rights, civil rights’, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, HRCP official I. A. Rehman said Pakistanis were a democratic nation that always fought for high moral values, never giving up their rights and fighting for freedom from successive dictatorial regimes.
Pakistan has signed two United Nations conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPR), and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on April 17, 2008 and ratified on June 23, 2010.
He said that globally speaking dictators ruled for decades and then were usually replaced by other dictators but here despite the fact the country had been taken over by military dictators four times, the freedom-loving people struggled hard and sent these dictators home in five to six years and restored the democratic rule every time.
He said people who sacrificed their lives or were flogged, sent to jails or tortured had never actually seen or lived in a true democracy and yet they struggled so that the quality of life of their fellow citizens improved and they lived in a free society.
He said that despite the government having signed numerous international human rights, women rights and children rights conventions, women and children, factory workers and farmers did not have equal rights and were being exploited in one form or another by the exploitative forces.
Responding to a question, he said that despite the fact that the separate electorate system had been abolished, the Ahmadi community was still not integrated in the joint electorate system and more disturbing was the fact that even civil society, which was very active against other rights violations, was also not as supportive of the Ahmadis.
According to him, the constitutional amendment made in 1974 was discriminatory as even the Quaid-i-Azam in his famous speech in the assembly in 1947 had announced that the state had no business interfering in the religious beliefs of the people and that everyone was an equal citizen having equal rights regardless of caste, colour, creed, religion, race etc.
He also regretted that the media did not highlight positive actions. He said after the demolition of the Babri mosque in India, desecration of hundreds of temples in Pakistan was given wide publicity but much of the media ignored that in Swat the people who had demolished a temple there had rebuilt it, or over 150 mosques demolished during partition in East Punjab were rebuilt by Hindus and Sikhs over the past couple of years.
Dr Moonis Ahmar of Karachi University said that over the years, values, ethics and awareness of rights and responsibilities had eroded, but if civil society was well organized, it could influence the government to be civilised and humane. He said a majority of people had inherent tendencies of chauvinism, intolerance, aggression, militancy, etc and the rights of the common people could be protected only with the rule of law.
He said while democracy was a better system of government, some civilised dictators such as the one in Singapore had developed their countries while protecting the rights of their people. He said Japan and Germany after their destruction in the Second World War became the second and fourth most powerful economies within four decades because they ensured the rule of law, justice, equality and common education, tolerance and religious freedom in their societies.
Columnist Zahida Hina deplored that though discriminatory laws were introduced by dictator Gen Zia, successive democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif did not repeal those laws. She said anti-democracy forces had gained strength and had been ruling the country, directly or indirectly, for over 50 years now.
She said that issues like that of missing persons, increasing number of suicides, child labour, bonded labour and domestic violence were rampant and tarnishing the image of the country in the world community.
She said it was ironical that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who had been tortured in prison and had been fighting that case for over a decade now, had expressed reservations about the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which showed how powerful the country’s establishment was.
She said the state should follow the agreements it made with its citizens and with international organizations, but unfortunately it was not done.
Dr Majeed Chandio of Shah Abdul Latif University said that Sufi saints had been propagating tolerance and people coexisted peacefully for centuries in the subcontinent, but with the arrival of colonial rulers, who followed a policy of divide and rule, factions were created by fomenting extremism which over the decades had become very strong.
He said now the situation was so bad that even mosques and Imambargahs were not safe, what to say about the safety of temples and churches.
Dr Sabir Michael alleged that the minorities were being discriminated against in every walk of life and even the quota reserved for them was not fairly implemented. The minorities had no participation in the decision-making bodies and their patriotism was suspected.
While the constitution and law were discriminatory, even the United Nations did not have any notable minority related project in the country. He suggested that the curriculum be made discrimination free.
Amar Sindhu of Sindh University said that a very narrow view of patriotism was taken by the establishment and even patriotism of those who spoke for the rights of oppressed Baloch, Sindhis, Seraikis, Pakhtuns etc was challenged and suspected. She said the rural population had been left at the mercy of feudal lords. The minorities and women were being discriminated against even by the constitution and the laws. She said the state of the Quaid’s vision where people had equal rights and religious freedom and lived in a tolerant society was non-existent today.
Zahid Farooq, Badar Soomro, SaharRizvi and others also spoke at the seminar conducted by Syed Shamsuddin.