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Doubtful numbers: Human rights cases

August 30, 2013

NOW this is what we call news. State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed said there has been a decline in ‘human rights’ cases in the country. He told the National Assembly on Wednesday that, except for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the incidence of human rights violations had gone down. The minister gave figures from across the country to back this assertion but even that could not make this bit of information any less incredulous. In the news coverage of his statement, the key words are “registered” and “reported”. It is unclear whether the source is newspapers, as they generally are in data collection exercises conducted by state and non-state organisations, or whether the figures are based on the number of cases brought to the police. The minister said there were “only” five “reported” cases of acid attack in Punjab so far this year as compared to 53 last year. The number has increased in KP. The cases of burns, domestic violence, violence against children and women and of missing persons had all gone up in the province.

For a nation desperately looking for positives, there is an urge to welcome the ‘fall’ in human rights violations in the other three provinces, even when it is difficult to correlate this rather sudden improvement to any visible anti-violence campaign there. This is a very sensitive matter, and just as a deeper look at the reasons behind the rise in rights cases in KP is in order, it would be worthwhile to double check the numbers gathered by the law ministry. It could well be that the suppliers of information to the minister were not able to keep track of events this side of Attock. Maybe, just as the media cannot be expected to report all such cases, the minister and the relevant officials could also have missed out on some of the routine atrocities carried out with impunity in the cities and villages of Pakistan. Let’s hope they have not, but let’s have a recount nonetheless.