NEW YORK: Pakistan’s new government should urgently address serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today in a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outlining “10 Steps to Improve Human Rights.”
The abuses include attacks on religious minorities, disappearances in Balochistan, and impunity for abusive militant groups.
In May 2013, Pakistanis went to the polls, effecting an historic transition of power from one democratically elected government to another. Prime Minister Sharif has an important opportunity to create a rights-respecting government that abides by the rule of law and restores the public’s faith in democratic institutions, HRW said.
“Pakistan has made impressive gains in very challenging circumstances since democracy was restored in 2008,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at HRW. “But unless the government calls a halt to serious human rights abuses, these gains may slip away.”
Since 2012, well over 650 Shia Muslims have been killed in targeted attacks across Pakistan, the majority from the Hazara community in Balochistan province. Sunni militant groups, such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi, operate with widespread impunity across Pakistan.
The government should apprehend and prosecute those responsible for attacks on the Shia and other groups at risk, HRW said.
“Militant attacks on the Shia have occurred with increasing ferocity while the security forces have looked on helplessly,” Hasan said.
“Whether the failure to hold and deter attackers is a function of incompetence or complicity by elements of the security forces, the government has a responsibility to reverse this state of affairs.”
Human Rights Watch has recorded repeated enforced disappearances and killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps.
Baloch nationalists and other militant groups also stepped up attacks on non-Baloch civilians in 2012 and 2013.
“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should take all necessary measures to end enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detentions in Balochistan,” Hasan said.
“But for that to happen the government should fully investigate and prosecute as appropriate everyone, regardless of position or rank, who orders or commits abuses.”
Prime Minister Sharif should redouble efforts to protect religious minorities, and imposing a moratorium on the use of Section 295-C, the blasphemy law, would be a first step, HRW said.
The government should also enact legislation against domestic violence and measures to improve investigation and prosecution of “honor” killings and acid attacks, which target women.
The government also needs to provide greater protection for journalists, who work in a climate of fear that impedes coverage of the state security forces and militant groups.
To cement in place mechanisms to protect human rights and to make human rights a priority in government policymaking, the government should promptly constitute the National Human Rights Commission, for which legislation has already been enacted.
“There are many challenges to making Pakistan a rights-respecting democracy and there are no quick fixes,” Hasan said.
“But for the development of Pakistan, it is essential for the government to take concrete steps to protect fundamental civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights as part of an active human rights agenda.”