KARACHI: The governing council of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern over the alarming polarisation in political discourse, saying it is detrimental to the cause of democracy, supremacy of parliament and constitutionalism.

According to a press release issued after the concluding session of its biannual meeting on Saturday, the council said it is equally concerned about the ensuing economic instability, the runaway inflation and the threat of food insecurity that are disproportionately impacting the working and middle classes. Punjab, the country’s biggest province, stays in a political limbo. HRCP called for a non-partisan consensus on crucial issues facing the country.

The council highlighted multiple grave human rights issues being faced by the populace, including the impact of climate change evident in the recent glacial flooding in Gilgit-Baltistan, the ongoing heatwave in Punjab, the acute water shortages in Sindh and Balochistan, leading to provincial conflicts, displacement and loss of livelihoods.

Voices concern over polarisation in political discourse

It noted the worsening instances of police brutality against peaceful protesters across Pakistan with arrests of activists and political workers on anti-state charges becoming a common feature. Freedom of press is in continuous stress and journalists have been persistently targeted. The state must uphold people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly instead of retaliating with unwarranted violence.

HRCP brings to the government’s notice that there is no let-up in cases of enforced disappearances, particularly in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. What is worse is the uptick in enforced disappearances of Baloch and Pakhtun students. It reiterated its demand to enact the law that criminalises enforced disappearances and the state must ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Violence against women and transgender persons showed no signs of abating, it noted. Religious and sectarian minorities remain vulnerable, with incidents such as cases of lynching by the mob in Sialkot and Mian Channu, the attack against Shia worshippers in Peshawar, and desecration of Ahmadiyya graves, becoming more frequent. The HRCP called on the state to curb the rising tide of religious extremism, and grant the National Commission for Minorities a statutory position in light of the 2014’s Tassaduq Jillani Supreme Court judgement so it may fulfil its duties.

The HRCP welcomed the passage of the Sindh Student Unions Bill, and the decisions to suspend the PMDA’s establishment and carry out a review of PECA. However, seats on various parliamentary committees remain vacant, since the passage of the vote of no-confidence, while the NCHR and NCSW are under-funded and hence not fully functional. HRCP also questioned the Council of Islamic Ideology’s statements criticising Islamabad High Court’s statements on underage marriage.

The promise to grant Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status must be fulfilled, it said. The council criticised the ‘discreet talks’ with militant groups in Afghanistan without taking the parliament into confidence. The HRCP also demanded that the state accede to the 1951 Refugee Conven­tion and its 1967 Protocol, and pass legislation for refugees’ rights.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2022

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