For the most part, the HRCP’s State of Human Rights in 2014 does not make for very optimistic reading. The report highlights the fact that where human rights and fundamental freedoms in Pakistan are concerned, 2014 saw much of the same violence and exploitation that this country has known for far too long.
As the document notes, the last year began with “...faith-based assaults on religious minorities. ...” and came to a harrowing end with the APS Peshawar massacre.
And as the statistics show, vulnerable groups such as religious and sectarian minorities, women, children and the poor had to struggle to survive in a stifling atmosphere dominated by violence and intimidation, with the state largely failing to protect the citizens’ fundamental rights.
Terrorism remained Pakistan’s foremost security concern in 2014, taking a bloody toll, with over 1,700 deaths in terrorist attacks. Violence against women also remained high, with hundreds of girls and women raped and subjected to ‘honour’ killings.
Far too many cases of custodial killings were reported, as were incidents of torture in custody, while sectarian and targeted killings continued to bedevil the country.
Yet in such an atmosphere of gloom there were a few bright spots. These included the fact that the provinces were active in the lawmaking sphere while the number of missing persons in Balochistan was down, but only slightly. Also welcome was the broad national consensus to tackle militancy that developed in the aftermath of the Peshawar tragedy.
But the shape this consensus took — the formation of military courts, the resumption of capital punishment — points to a preference for short-term, populist solutions rather than a desire to address the systemic, societal problems that feed militancy and terrorism.
Moreover, such solutions have given the state, especially the security establishment, sweeping powers that stray perilously close to trampling on basic rights.
Perhaps the root cause of Pakistan’s dismal human rights situation is the state’s lack of ability to implement existing laws, as well as the failure of the criminal justice system.
The report says that by the end of 2014, there were nearly two million cases pending in the country’s courts. This lack of accountability and justice delivery says much about the state’s desire to protect the people’s rights and bring the usurpers of those rights to justice.
The HRCP document rightly says that the “gap between laws and implementation” is a key reason behind the growth of crime, especially targeting minorities and vulnerable segments of society.
There seems to be complacency prevalent in all sections of the state and society. Yet the protection of fundamental rights is not the job of civil society or activists alone; it should be a matter of concern for every Pakistani.
Unless the state delivers on its responsibilities and the citizens actively remind the rulers of their duties, the weak and the vulnerable will continue to be exploited in Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2015