ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a dialogue highlighted multiple challenges to human rights due to counterterrorism, and demanded an independent and resourceful human rights commission.

The experts were speaking at a dialogue on the role of national human rights institutions, organised by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), Asia Pacific Forum (APF) and Democracy Reporting International (DRI).

They noted that several human rights violations have largely been accepted by society as countermeasures to terrorism.

Some of these violations, they agreed, have been welcomed by many segments of society, such as the establishment of military courts, the resumption of the death penalty and the imposition of other stringent measures.

At the same time, some speakers said that the movements of ordinary citizens have been curtailed due to the fear of terror attacks, women’s rights have suffered and the nation has faced the violation of its economic rights.

Addressing the dialogue, Federal Minister for Human Rights Zahid Hamid said: “Terrorism has exposed multidimensional human rights challenges in Pakistan, and the government is striving to root out terrorism.”

He said that the establishment of an independent human rights institution shows the governments’ commitment to protect citizens’ rights in Pakistan, particularly the rights of women, children and minorities.

He vowed that the government would continue to support making the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) a functional body.

NCHR chairperson Ali Nawaz Chowhan said the creation of Pakistan was based on human rights and that they were therefore important. He called for making the body operational.

“Currently, NCHR is getting strength internationally from UN human rights mechanisms, APF, German human rights institutions and locally, from the civil society,” Mr Chowhan said.

NCHR was established six months ago, to assist the government in fulfilling its international obligations, particularly in reporting to treaty bodies regularly and with more accuracy.

“We are a new body with very limited resources, but we have made significant progress and are constantly monitoring the human rights situation in the country,” Mr Chowhan said.

Speakers said Pakistan should learn from Germany’s example of upholding human rights. German ambassador Ina Lepal termed the establishment of NCHR a landmark development for Pakistan.

“It demonstrates Pakistan’s commitment to ensure compliance on international human rights obligations,” she said, “The institution is required to be provided with resources, develop an action plan and build relationships with stakeholders, including civil society.”

DRI team leader Zulfiqar Shah lauded the partnership of NCHR with APF, which is an autonomous network of 22 human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific region.

Mr Shah said the partnership would help strengthen NCHR’s foundations, but emphasized that the body should be made operational as soon as possible.

He said the country needs strong institutional mechanisms for the protection of human rights and to improve the security situation, rather than compromising on citizens’ rights.

Zafarullah Khan of the Centre for Civic Education said that Pakistan’s first ever committee for the fundamental rights of citizens and minorities was constituted on August 12, 1947, and was headed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

He said a functioning and independent NCHR is expected to change the culture of the denial of rights in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2016

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