ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has warned all political stakeholders that unless they desist from any further measures that could imperil the country’s fragile democracy, they may find themselves unable to steer the country safely through the multiple crises it was facing.
Addressing a news conference at National Press Club on Wednesday, HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani said the commission noted with great alarm that civilian supremacy has emerged as the greatest casualty in the ongoing political crisis.
“The government’s inability — or unwillingness — to safeguard civilian supremacy or to preserve the dignity of parliament has proven tremendously disappointing. At the same time, the political opposition’s history of hostile politics and contempt for the rule of law has played no small part in triggering the wanton destruction of property during May 9 and 10. These were not peaceful protests. The evidence points to acts of arson, rioting, looting, vandalism and trespass onto state and private property,” she said.
She said the judiciary, too, found wanting its unity and nonpartisanship compromised with serious implications for the trichotomy of powers. “HRCP regrets that the failure of the judiciary to credibly maintain its independence and impartiality has exacerbated the rule-of-law crisis in the country. While many allegations of violence and custodial torture against political workers and PTI supporters, including women and minors, have yet to be verified, all such allegations merit independent investigation,” she said, according to an HRCP statement.
Opposes political engineering in 2018, current attempt to ‘reverse-engineer’ democratic process
The HRCP reminded the authorities that torture or any form of degrading treatment of persons in custody was a serious human rights violation. Also, the disappearance of at least two journalists must be investigated in a transparent manner, the findings made public and the perpetrators held strictly to account, the commission demanded.
Trial under civilian laws
“Of particular concern is the government’s decision to try civilians under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952. While those responsible for the destruction of public and private property must undoubtedly be held accountable, there is ample provision in civilian laws for this. Any government seriously committed to upholding civilian supremacy would strongly consider repealing Article 2(1)(d) of the Act, which allows civilians to be tried in military courts, thereby denying them their constitutional right to a fair trial. HRCP also objects to the arbitrary manner in which certain cases are selected to be tried by military courts, thereby violating the principle of equality before the law and equal protection of the law,” it stated.
“While all political parties must adhere to democratic, peaceful and bona fide means to further their political agendas, HRCP sees no benefit to Pakistan’s polity in banning a political party. We consider any step by the government to ban the PTI both reckless and disproportionate,” it stated.
“HRCP insists that, under no circumstances should national elections be delayed beyond October 2023. Such a step by the government would amount to derailing the democratic process and compound the current political instability. Anything less than free, fair and credible elections in an environment that allows the exercise of all fundamental freedoms, will leave the country open to further ill-judged and undemocratic political ‘experiments’.
“HRCP is deeply concerned by the rapid pace at which nonpolitical forces are wresting the space for which Pakistani civil society has fought long and hard. The democracy that Pakistan’s people want and deserve cannot be built on fluid loyalties and shifting narratives,” it stated.
The commission not only opposed what it saw as ‘political engineering’ in the 2018 elections, but also objected just as strongly to the tactics being employed in the attempt to ‘reverse-engineer’ the democratic process.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2023