HUMAN RIGHTS: Lack of will or what?
THE human rights situation in Pakistan in 2012 remained dismal as usual. While there were a few bright spots, these were eclipsed together by a lack of will on part of the state, and society’s increasing penchant for tolerating and encouraging brutality.
Women, children, the poor, Shias, religious minorities … all saw their human rights further erode in 2012, while the forces of regression gained ground.
Efforts were made at the state level to address the situation. The National Commission for Human Rights Act, for instance, was signed into law by the president in May, calling for the creation of a commission mandated to hold institutions accountable for abuses. However, the effectiveness of the commission will be proved when it makes visible changes in the national human rights landscape.
Missing persons was another area where pillars of the state, particularly the Judiciary, made efforts to rectify the situation. Over the years, two groups have been subjected to ‘enforced disappearances’ in Pakistan: those with alleged links with militancy, and the Baloch nationalists. The intelligence apparatus is believed to be involved in the disappearances of both groups, ignoring due process.
In February, the Supreme Court censured intelligence agencies for not producing terrorism suspects in court, while an apex court bench hearing a petition in Quetta in July called on the Balochistan authorities to produce the missing persons before the court. However, the visit of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in September received a cold response from nearly all state institutions.
The space for religious minorities continued to shrink in 2012. The Hindu community faced harassment, including kidnappings in Balochistan and Sindh, while there were several cases of alleged forced conversions, where young Hindu women were reportedly forcefully converted to marry Muslim men. However, many observers questioned the veracity of the conversions. Reports that many Hindu families were heading for India — permanently — were perhaps the most disturbing.
Of the travails suffered by the Christian community, the Rimsha Masih case perhaps best symbolised the difficult circumstances that constantly confront Pakistani Christians. The girl was accused by a Muslim cleric in August of desecrating the Holy Quran. However, the girl’s mental stability was questioned and the Islamabad High Court quashed the case against her in November. Earlier, it had emerged that her accuser had apparently tried to plant evidence in order to frame the girl.
Shias also faced a rough 2012. From massacres of bus passengers to targeted killings to the slaughter of Hazaras in Quetta, members of the community found themselves easy targets for sectarian terrorists, with the state unable to protect them. There were several instances where Shias were pulled off buses and assassinated on the basis of their identity, with some of the most gruesome incidents occurring in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohistan area in February and Mansehra in August.
The right to life – perhaps the most basic human right – was incessantly violated in the killing fields of Karachi and Quetta in 2012, with the state nowhere to be found.
The writer is a member of staff.