KARACHI: “The situation we see on the streets after Aasia Bibi’s acquittal raises the question of whether the Constitution is sacred or is mobocracy more so,” said retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan at a national consultation titled ‘Challenges on Human Rights in Pakistan’ on Thursday.

Organised by the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), Justice Chowhan raised alarm over the deteriorating security situation in different cities after the Supreme Court passed its verdict. “The greatest challenge we face today is deciphering whether Pakistan is a constitutional state or are we harbouring many states within that have separate agendas. These protests and threats are a blatant disregard of the Constitution and come under the ambit of treason. The verdict is based on principles of law and evidence. Do they want that without listening to people, without taking into account evidence and fact, somebody should be hanged because they feel it should be so?”

Justice Chowhan spoke at length about the need for the state to “eliminate states within states; this is a constitutional requirement. The real state must ensure the writ of the state and keep such protests in check to prevent the rule of anarchy.”

The consultation aimed to shed light on different human rights violations happening in the country; among them enforced disappearances was a topic also discussed. A preliminary report was also launched titled The unending saga of enforced disappearances.

Speakers at human rights conclave question existence of states within the state

Justice Chowhan, commenting on the report, said that it was a “means of advocating for a remedial mechanism within the government to take care of disappearances and keep a check on the irresponsible elements working with impunity on this subject.”

Senator Sherry Rehman gave an impassioned speech and insisted that the trajectory of Pakistani politics must change. “Pakistan is not alone in facing this majoritarian crisis of democratic politics, where exclusionary and identity-based politics is taking over. Countries that upheld the rule of law, dignity of human beings, the invaluable rights of women and minorities have stepped back from promises made to the world and to their own people.”

‘Grand march of illiberalism’

An inclusive model of citizenship is under threat the world over, she explained. “The grand march of extremism and illiberalism seen the world over has taken root in Pakistan too. Violent extremism and exclusion are going to be one of the biggest challenges we will continue to face.”

Human rights activist I.A. Rehman criticised how commissions to protect human rights were set up but not allowed to function, as if the mere act of establishing a forum was enough to ensure rights to people. “Fundamental rights such as right to health, right to social security and many others have not yet been provided. Economic, social, political and cultural rights all come under the domain of fundamental rights and none should be compromised on.”

Anis Haroon, member of the NCHR, hailed the verdict as a victory for all human rights defenders. “The verdict is a positive development, but the conversation must not stop. It is now the job of the parliament to bring about changes in procedural laws so that non-state actors and retrogressive forces cannot use laws as a weapon against anybody. The state needs to show a very strong will when faced against non-state actors who create a law and order situation,” she said.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2018