Human rights promises

THE outgoing assembly has ended its tenure on a high note in terms of human rights legislation. Interestingly, this...
Published June 7, 2018

THE outgoing assembly has ended its tenure on a high note in terms of human rights legislation. Interestingly, this pertained to an issue that none of the major political parties had even alluded to in their previous manifestos — the rights of transgenders.

In its wide-ranging scope, the recently enacted law belies the silence adopted on the subject by the political parties in their manifestos.

However, this final flourish cannot erase the fact that Pakistan fared poorly in its UN-mandated Universal Periodic Review earlier this year, largely on account of the rising incidence of enforced disappearances, a practice associated with some of the most brutal regimes in history.

Clearly, the political parties have not done enough to improve human rights, whether through fresh legislation or by implementing existing laws.

They have a chance to redeem themselves if they come to power through the elections on July 25. And their 2018 manifestos must provide the blueprint.

Of the three main political parties — the PML-N, PPP and PTI — only the PPP included a cursory mention of enforced disappearances in its previous manifesto.

This time around, in order to assert civilian authority over the functions of the state, political parties must put on record their refusal to countenance the deplorable practice, and spell out measures to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Such repudiation, however, must be accompanied by reforms in the criminal justice system, for what is enforced disappearance but an extreme violation of the right to due process?

The demands of national security should no longer be used as a tacit justification for enforced disappearances.

Instead of abdicating counter-terrorism responsibilities to the security establishment, as the PML-N government did in its last tenure, political parties should vow to establish democratic and parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services.

It is high time that rhetoric about speedy and inexpensive justice — and witness protection programmes — was translated into action.

After all, a law is only as good as its enforcement: the PPP-led Sindh government took three years to draft the rules of business for the witness protection law it passed in September 2013.

Also, a depoliticised, community-oriented police force is the people’s right: the PPP and PML-N should take a leaf out of the PTI’s book in its singular achievement on this score in KP.

No society can claim progress without ensuring women’s equal participation in the political process. Reserved seats — election to which is dependent largely on male politicians — are no substitute for being directly elected, and a 10pc quota for women candidates on general seats must be on every party’s agenda.

Equality in the public sphere is concomitant with equality in the private. However, only the PML-N in Punjab has so far followed anti-domestic violence legislation with practical measures such as women protection centres, etc.

Domestic violence did not even earn a mention in the PTI’s previous manifesto. Hopefully no party will surrender to misogynistic ‘cultural sensitivities’ in 2018.

Another reality, one we have been confronted with far too often, is violence arising from bigotry and prejudice against the minorities.

In this, political parties have cravenly submitted to the bully pulpit of the religious lobby.

The PTI, under pressure from its minority partner in KP, the Jamaat-i-Islami, reintroduced ideologically biased language into textbooks.

The PPP has relegated to the back burner its law against forced conversions in Sindh, and no party has the courage to allude to even procedural change in the blasphemy law, the misuse of which causes disproportionate misery to minorities.

Will any party have the courage and integrity to address this most thorny of issues?

Children are also, for obvious reasons, deserving of special provisions to protect them. As the horrific Kasur child abuse case illustrates, we are doing far too little to protect our young people.

Political parties could even look to other countries for workable child abduction alert systems that could be replicated in Pakistan, aside from enforcing already existing laws.

Violence against child domestic workers too requires urgent redressal and must receive particular attention in the forthcoming election manifestos.

Raising the minimum age for marriage to 18 years in Sindh is a feather in the PPP’s cap, but improvements in the juvenile justice system remain an unmet promise.

As to the differently abled, who perhaps have the least amount of social protections, the PTI’s previous manifesto contained the most wide-ranging provisions to ensure not only their welfare but inclusivity as well, including their representation in the assemblies.

If ambitious, at least the party’s words represent some understanding of the way in which people with disabilities have been marginalised in this society. The other parties must take a cue from the PTI’s approach.

While high-flown rhetoric is often a feature of election manifestos, and can even serve as an acknowledgment of the issues that need addressing, parties should realistically assess what lies within their capabilities.

There is something to be said for them to append targeted, ‘doable’ measures to each subject in their manifestos. Exceeding one’s promises will win voters the next time around; failing to meet them only leads to disenchantment — with the party and the democratic process.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2018