LAHORE, March 18: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has voiced concern over the continued deterioration in the state of human rights across the country and emphasised the need for all actors and institutions to urgently address pressing concerns as well as respect and strengthen the political process.

A statement approved by the HRCP annual general meeting held here on Sunday said: “The country is passing through a critical phase where the democratic experiment is on trial and it is imperative that the political process is respected and reinforced.

The HRCP considers it important that the process of improving the constitution continues until all accretions of dictatorship are thrown out and the chapter on fundamental rights is further reinforced. In HRCP’s view a four-year term for parliament may also be considered so as to enable the people to exercise their democratic rights more frequently and to hold the government accountable. It will also create space for the emergence of fresh leadership,” the statement says.

It stressed enhanced vigilance in guarding against any form of extra-democratic intervention in the forthcoming general elections, by the military, extremists or through any special judicial process. The people’s anxieties on that account must be given due weight and urgently addressed, it demanded.

HRCP expresses its acute concern over escalations in religious and sectarian violence and demands that the government should launch and sustain a robust effort by civilian and military authorities to adequately respond to the growing menace, especially the oppression of the Ahmedis, the killing of the Shias, and the kidnapping for ransom and forced conversion of the Hindus. At least part of the focus must be on stemming intolerance in society, it says.

In Balochistan, it says, victims of enforced disappearance remain missing or their bodies are increasingly discovered, adding at least 173 such bodies were found in 2011. Unless political means are employed to address an essentially political problem, things are bound to get worse.

The commission demands that impunity for the security agencies must be ended, law and order improved and the incidents of kidnapping for ransom brought under control. In the final analysis the people of Balochistan must have a decisive say in their affairs, it adds.

HRCP statement urges the government to pay immediate attention to early warnings of unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan, seeking action to address people’s political and socio-economic concerns and put an end to sectarian violence.

The HRCP sees no let up in violence in Karachi. A new wave of targeting political activists in Sindh through abduction and murder has added to people’s concern, it says.

“It is a disgrace that nearly a decade after the menace of enforced disappearance raised its ugly head, not a single person has been held to account for involvement in this travesty. The government must immediately acknowledge all such detentions, release the people and put in place means to end disappearances. It is high time to introduce a compensation regime for victims of crime by the state. A considerable number of people are known to be in military detention following the security forces operations against the militants. Due process must be ensured for these people too. The consensus on the need to introduce legislation to regulate the working of the intelligence agencies must be respected,” it says.

It says that threats to human rights defenders have continued unchallenged and three HRCP activists have been killed in 2011 alone. It demands the state must ensure protection for those defending others rights and provide an environment conducive for them to work without threats to their lives.

The HRCP general body condemned the degree of freedom allowed to certain groups to circulate malicious material against individuals, including Asma Jahangir. Such acts must be investigated seriously and the perpetrators be brought to justice.

It deplores government apathy towards the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and adds the shelter and livelihood concerns of those who have returned after displacement have not been adequately addressed. The health and education needs of the displaced children must be given much more priority than they have received so far, it demands.

It urges government to ensure right to due process for thousands of Pakistanis, many of then irregular migrants, detained abroad so that they could be brought back.

It also expresses concern at the kidnappings for ransom and a general breakdown of law and order in the country. Increased militant activity in the last few months has also added to these concerns, it adds. The commission raps what it calls ‘weaponisation’ of society, violence in educational institutions of higher learning and murders in the name of honor.

It notes with disappointment that the recent amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) brought virtually no change to the system of governance. It seeks urgent changes to the law to ensure proper reform and due process. Collective punishment, punitive demolition of houses and all forms of arbitrary detention must be made illegal, it demands. HRCP also expresses its grave concern over challenges to freedom of expression and the reported plans to censor the media and the internet. It demands the media, civil society and the people in general must be consulted before any changes are considered in the law. The media should do more to counter radicalisation and intolerance. It regrets that the misuse of blasphemy laws and the official apathy and appeasement of extremists have continued.

It urges the government to honour its commitment to protect the people from vigilantes claiming to act under the banner of religion. It welcomes the recently adopted pro-women rights laws and pledges to monitor how they are implemented.