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Prisoners of conscience

April 23, 2013

HONOURABLE Justice (Retired) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim Chief Election Commissioner

Dear Sir, Allow me to congratulate you for the rigorous manner in which the Election Commission of Pakistan has scrutinised the nomination papers of candidates for the upcoming elections, a few myopic yet well-meaning returning officers notwithstanding.

The Constitution places a duty on the ECP under Article 218 (3) to organise and conduct elections and to make arrangements as are necessary to ensure that “the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law”, and that corrupt practices are guarded against. In addition, Article 220 of the Constitution places mandatory duty of all executive authorities in the federation and the provinces to assist the ECP in discharge of its functions. No election can be fair if a major political party is allowed to flout the law of the land.

In the same vein Sir, no nation can be considered civilised unless the right to life, freedom, and dignity is afforded to all living creatures unless considered a threat to the lives of others.

As a law-abiding citizen and rights activist, I hold a valid and legitimate concern about the welfare of animals in custody of private individuals; and their inappropriate use for political purposes or ways in which the dignity of the animals itself as well as safety of the general public is threatened. In the wake of upcoming general elections in Pakistan, I wish to bring to your knowledge the following information:

The big cats species of wild felids (cats) that primarily include lions, tigers, cheetahs and leopards etc. are threatened. These species are an irreplaceable part of our ecosystem. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora of 1973 (CITES) was first acceded by the Government of Pakistan in 1976 and later ratified by parliament through the Pakistan Trade Control of Wild Fauna and Flora Act of 2012 (the “2012 Act”) by virtue of which a body, CITES Management Authority under Federal Ministry of Climate Change, was formally declared in Pakistan as per Article IX of CITES.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan of 1973 as per the Fourth Schedule of the Federal Legislative List places “International treaties, conventions and agreements and international arbitration” under a central domain by virtue of which CITES implementation is the primary responsibility of the federal government.

In June 2011, the Federal Ministry of Climate Change (then the Federal Ministry of Environment) approved ‘Guidelines for the Acquisition and Management of Wild Felids in Captivity’ after consulting all provincial wildlife departments and leading environmental conservation organisations such as WWF-Pakistan and IUCN Pakistan. These guidelines include the following specifications:

“Clause 9.5: No cat species can be housed by the roadside in access of pedestrians or in areas that are common for public, where there can be a threat to the public or a felid could be provoked to cause injury to the public.”

“Clause 9.6: No felid species will be made to walk in public areas whether it is on a leash or in a cage.”

Sir, unfortunately, we are not a nation given to protecting or even acknowledging the rights of the powerless, the voiceless. You are held in extremely high esteem by people such as myself, an ordinary citizen of an extraordinary country where millions eke out an existence from the crumbs thrown at them by the largesse of “elected representatives”.

I am placing my faith in your ability to understand that I am speaking on behalf of animals because it is imperative to my conscience that I do so. I raise my voice today because amongst the din and clamour of electioneering, deal-making, reality-fixing, spin-doctoring, and promise-making, I stand firm in my belief that the civilising signifier of a nation is in how that nation treats the powerless, the voiceless. I am confident that our people shall be able to fight terror, oppression, lies, and exploitation.

But Sir, I fear that these animals cannot do the same. They cannot take off the burdensome chains which cut into their flesh, they cannot gnaw their way out of the iron cages which imprison them, they cannot protect themselves from the onslaught to their dignity by gawping and heckling spectators.

The flagrant display of wild animals on roads and public places is not only illegal but also against the norms of any civilised society. The presence of endangered species in massive public gatherings while being leashed and caged amounts to cruel treatment and is a visible exploitation of globally protected species.

Furthermore it threatens the security of the general public who attend these rallies, or happen to be in the vicinity. This practice also damages the international image of Pakistan in the comity of civilised nations.

With this letter I request the ECP to include in the Code of Conduct for the electoral process, the prohibition of any misuse and display of any animal by all political parties. The competent authorities at both federal and provincial levels should be instructed to take appropriate action in case such violations of the law take place where cruel treatment is meted out to animals and the safety of the public is endangered.

Sir, I trust that you shall ensure the inclusion of such a provision, for, in the words of the Quran: “There is not an animal that lives on the Earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but forms part of communities like you. Nothing have we omitted from the Book, and they all shall be gathered to their Lord in the end.” (6.38)

Yours Sincerely, Feryal Ali Gauhar

The writer is a rights activist.