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Judiciary accused of encroaching on political space

April 05, 2013

Asma Jahangir, former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan speaks during the launching of annual report of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan ‘State of Human Rights in 2012’ at local hotel. — Photo by INP/Hassan Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has accused the judiciary of exercising its power rather than its jurisdiction and encroaching on political space, condemned the killing of minorities and expressed fears about the future of democracy.

The HRCP Chairperson, Asma Jahangir, and Secretary General I.A. Rehman spoke about the increasing violation of human rights when they unveiled the commission’s annual report on disturbing events in 2012 at a hotel on Thursday afternoon. It was attended by civil society representatives, lawyers and media personnel.

The speakers talked about the state of confrontation between the judiciary and the executive which persisted as the Supreme Court extended the limits of judicial activism and the government was found wanting in compliance.

They particularly pointed out the case of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who was convicted of contempt of court and lost his office and seat in the National Assembly. His successor barely escaped the same fate and eventually complied with the SC order.

The 335-page report, titled “State of Human Rights in 2012”, cited as example the memo case, which caused much sensation but remained undecided. On dispensation of justice, the report was critical of how the case of Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had been averted and how no individual or organisation could be held responsible for the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad.

MINORITIES: “The year 2012 was a bad year for minorities,” I.A. Rehman said, referring to the killing of Shias from Quetta to Gilgit-Baltistan and Karachi in a ‘professional style’. More than 100 Hazara Shias were killed in Balochistan alone.

“The killing of minorities was the gravest issue. It claimed more lives than in drone attacks and acts of terrorism put together,” Asma Jahangir said, adding that this kind of terrorism did not creep up but was provided an enabling environment and was not a reaction to drone attacks.

Summarised under 18 headings, the report also gave a general overview of freedom of expression. Quoting from the Press Freedom Index, the report said Pakistan was one of the deadliest countries for journalists and ranked 151 out of 179 countries. At least 14 journalists were killed last year.

According to the report, 242 people were awarded death penalty last year; 403 suspects were killed in 350 police encounters across the country; 240 to 400 lives were lost in 48 drone attacks; 2,050 people were killed and 3,822 injured in 1,577 terrorist attacks; at least 2,284 people lost their lives in ethnic, sectarian and politically linked violence in Karachi; in the first six months of last year, 1,573 incidents of child sexual abuse were recorded; and as many as 913 girls, including 99 minors, were killed in the name of honour.

MISSING PERSONS: While the HRCP received reports of 87 people gone missing across the country, 72 were either traced or released. The bodies of at least 72 missing persons were found in Balochistan.

The report highlighted the plight of well-known ‘Adiyala eleven’. They went missing from outside Rawalpindi’s Adiyala jail the day they had been acquitted of charges of involvement in terrorist attacks, including the one on the military headquarters. Four of them died in custody in mysterious circumstances. The surviving seven were produced after repeated interventions by the Supreme Court — some could barely walk. The interventions, however, did not ensure their release. They remained incarcerated, the report said.

EDUCATION: The HRCP was disappointed at the allocation in the 2012-13 budget for primary education (Rs71 billion) and secondary education (Rs69.4 billion), terming it too little to meet the millennium development goals.

HEALTH: The report said Pakistan was among the highest-ranking countries where people still died of tuberculosis, polio and even malaria.

“2012 had also been a bad year for the working class and their rights came under pressure. We did nothing in areas of progress. We did not see covenants implemented. All of these and more resulted in people losing confidence and trust in institutions,” Mr Rehman said. Ms Jahangir attributed the malaise to lack of governance. “Institutions, including the Supreme Court, failed to address their own governance. We appreciate that the SC takes up cases as fundamental rights of people, but we also want conclusive results,” she said while referring to the case of missing persons.