HRCP members and rights activists display the report during the press conference on Thursday. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
HRCP members and rights activists display the report during the press conference on Thursday. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

• Enforced disappearances, gross violations of human rights continued in 2023, says commission
• Report notes journalists faced restrictions, alarming increase of street crime in Karachi

KARACHI: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) annual report on the State of Human Rights in 2023, launched at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday details the deteriorating law and order situation in Sindh, particularly the marked increase in street crime, about 11 per cent in Karachi, and kidnappings.

According to Qazi Khizar, the vice chairperson of the HRCP Sindh region, enforced disappearances of political workers, nationalists, lawyers and journalists continued unabated.

He spoke about the 2,299 cases of enforced disappearances that remained unresolved until the end of 2023.

During the year, in 4,413 cases, the victims returned home, in 994 cases, the victims were traced to internment centres, in 644 cases, the victims were traced to prisons and in 261 cases, the victims’ dead bodies were found. “As in previous years, HRCP believes that these numbers are vastly under-reported and holds the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, formed by the government in 2011, responsible for not holding perpetrators to account,” he said.

Violations of civic and fundamental rights continued to take place throughout the year.

During the May 9 riots, a number of public and private properties were damaged. In an excessive crackdown by the state, over 25 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders, including the former Sindh governor, Imran Ismail, were arrested.

The rights of vulnerable groups in Sindh also took a hit as scores of Afghan refugees and migrants were arrested and deported following the federal caretaker government’s executive order to deport illegal foreigners.

Violence against women and children remained a persistent issue with at least 546 cases of child abuse reported in Sindh during the year.

Speaking on the occasion, senior educationist and teacher of journalism, Dr Tauseef Ahmad Khan, pointed out that the space for civilians seemed to be shrinking because new restrictions were imposed on media freedom.

“Pemra stopped the media from coverage of the PTI, anchor persons like Imran Riaz Khan went missing. Three other journalists also went missing in Sindh. Nasrullah Gadani, before he was killed this year, was also arrested last year. And the media is pressured to not publish news about missing journalists. Social activists were and are also targeted. For 15 times last year there was also no Internet, which is also a violation of human rights as it blocks information,” he said.

Saeed Baloch, secretary general of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, pointed towards climate change and frequent flooding that takes place in Sindh. “The government must look into reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Karachi emits the most carbon dioxide in the country leading to chest diseases and sinus trouble, and it is all due to air pollution,” he said.

Riaz Ahmed Shaikh, dean of social sciences and education at Szabist, said that in all of South Asia, Pakistan has the most private education students. “And 42 per cent of students in Sindh attend private schools. It shows that people don’t have faith in government schools,” he said.

“Sindh was worst hit by the 2022 floods. Many schools were affected due to that. Why is state money not being spent on education? There is no data on how many schools are back to normal and how many closed. Meanwhile, there is state level denial about education as children are working or begging on the streets,” he said.

Sadia Baloch pointed out the many cases of blasphemy in Sindh. “There were 41 people, including two women, accused of blasphemy in Sindh last year. Two places of worship, one Hindu and the other Ahmadiyya, were attacked while the police who were nearby did nothing,” she said.

“In Kashmore, a temple was attacked by rocket launchers. There is too much enforced migration of the Hindu community and lots of kidnappings too. The alarming situation needs to be questioned,” she added.

In terms of labour rights, Zehra Khan, of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, said that the workers’ minimum wage had been wrongly calculated at Rs32,000. “The living wage in these times of inflation is Rs74,000. Besides, workers’ safety is at risk and unemployment is also on the rise,” she said, adding that the HRCP report mentions all their issues, too, and serves as a charge sheet against the government.

Mahnaz Rahman of the Aurat Foundation while pointing out the problems faced by women regarding health and family planning, also pointed to some positive things such as the Pink Bus service started by the government of Sindh that has helped women feel safe while commuting and mentioned Rana Ansar, who was made first-ever woman leader of opposition in the Sindh Assembly.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2024

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