HOW long must we, the Pakistani people, continue to suffer as our individual freedoms are suffocated and the constant threat of violence hangs over our heads? With the 75th Independence Day celebrations in a few months, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s annual report on the state of our civil liberties and rights paints a sorry picture of where our nation stands.
The report, which examines the state of human rights in the country in the year 2021, is a reminder of the state’s continuing failure to protect individuals from going ‘missing’; of powerful quarters’ growing intolerance towards criticism and free speech; of our failure as a society to respect and protect religious minorities, and of the harrowing violence the women of this country continue to be subjected to each day.
Editorial: State of human rights
It is unfortunate that ringing alarm bells on the dismal state of human rights is often viewed with suspicion in our country. It is necessary, however, for all citizens to ask questions that can help unveil how powerful quarters often abuse their position to deny the public its rights and privileges. For example, one should ask what is defamatory about demanding that citizens not be kidnapped and forcefully disappeared, and, instead, be prosecuted transparently under the law for any crimes they may have committed? Is our security apparatus incompetent or just plain lazy that it has to resort to brutish methods to enforce its writ? Likewise, why must the powerful throttle critical voices and the media with force and intimidation when they ought to be able to counter with reasoned facts and arguments?
It is necessary also to see the state of affairs when it comes to women, children, transgender persons and minorities’ rights as our collective failure as a society.
The Noor Mukaddam murder, which features in the HRCP’s report, was emblematic of inhuman violence and brutalities women are often subjected to by people they know, yet legislation against domestic violence was scuttled by the Council of Islamic Ideology based on its narrow interpretation of the law. The CII also opposed a bill on forced conversion, despite the abduction and conversion of young, non-Muslim women, often minors, remaining a major rights issue.
Likewise, a recent spate of killings of transgender persons in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa highlights that much remains to be done till transpersons are to be considered equal humans by society, let alone equal citizens of the state.
It is unfortunate that discourse on national development often becomes too narrowly focused on achieving economic improvement rather than on how political leadership can help transform the lives of the citizenry more holistically. This allows the people in authority to avoid taking difficult decisions through which most of Pakistan’s rights problems can be resolved.
It is up to the people to push their representatives to ensure there are major improvements in Pakistan’s rights report card.
Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2022